Richard ‘Dicky’ Barr has spent the last 15 years dedicating much of his spare time to fundraising for the Down’s Syndrome Association and for Woolgrove Special Needs Academy in Letchworth Garden City.
His latest challenge has seen him successfully completed a 100-mile cycle challenge on a single day in September, in memory of his son Tom, who died when he was just seven years old.
Richard ‘Dicky’ Barr left his home in Letchworth Garden City and followed a route which included the following; Woolgrove School, Special Needs Academy, in Letchworth Garden City; Lister Hospital, in Hertfordshire; Harefield Hospital in Middlesex; Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in South West London, Royal Brompton Hospital in West London; King’s College Hospital in South London; and Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in Central London. These are all places where Dicky’s son, Tom, received support and treatment.
“The challenge was tougher than I had expected, and in a number of ways. It was a very long and tiring day. I left home before 5 in the morning and didn’t get back until 9 in the evening. Cycling over 100 miles on a mix of roads, trails and tow paths, was hard going but good fun too. It was also very emotional at times, visiting places I had not been to for many years, in particular Great Ormond Street where Tom, our son, died in 2004.”
Tom had Down’s Syndrome and was born with congenital heart disease, (AVSD and Fallot’s Tetralogy). Despite his challenges, Tom enjoyed life to the full and lit up the lives of those around him.
‘Tom tended to create a tidal wave of smiles and laughter wherever he went, as others were taken by his infectious joy. He had a real slap-stick sense of humour, going into fits of giggles if you were to drop something, or knock into something. We are incredibly proud of him.’
Tom died at Great Ormond Street Hospital in July 2004 and ever since, Dicky has spent much of his spare time fundraising for the charities – Woolgrove Special Needs Academy was Tom’s old school.
‘Each year I take on a different challenge to raise funds for the two charities who helped us so much. I guess too there may be something therapeutic for me in the charity adventures; when I was about to embark upon my first charity challenge a friend said he was sure that Tom would be riding pillion with me. This sentiment is comforting and has always rested with me.’
Dicky has raised more than £60,000 over the last 15 years for the causes. He has ridden across India on a motorcycle; climbed Mt Kilimanjaro; trekked the Peruvian Inca Trail and to Everest Base Camp; cycled across Vietnam and Cambodia; dog sled over 250km in the Arctic Circle; cycled across Costa Rica; motorcycled the length of the UK in under 16 hours and cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats, and in 2019 rode a motorcycle over 10,000 miles from London to Mount Everest.
Recent charity challenges have seen Dicky with a toy mouse at his side.
‘After Tom died, I wanted to do something to remember him by and to support two organisations in particular who had helped him, and our family, so much.
I had been thinking for a long time about writing a children’s book, as a long term and sustainable way of raising funds, but it was only in the last few years that I have had the time. I have had wonderful support and encouragement from so many people, not least from professional illustrator Joanna Scott.’
And so followed ‘You Can Do It Tom Mouse!’ – the story of a young adventurous mouse following in his grandfather’s footsteps, venturing around the world.
‘The story is about knowing that with support from family and friends, you can take on any challenge and succeed. Pre-COVID19, I had been taking Tom Mouse in to schools, to help inspire children to take on challenges and explore the world, as well as helping them to create, write and tell their stories. Following the success of the first book, we are working on the second book,
“Tom Mouse And The North Pole Mystery!”. We aim to publish it for Christmas!’
Shortly after Dicky’s son’s death, Woolgrove School created the annual ‘Tom Barr Award’ for the happiest child in the school. Richard has visited Woolgrove School to share the Tom Mouse story and work with the children to help them to bring their stories to life.
‘The imagination and creativity of the children was fantastic, as they developed their own adventures and stories, inspired by the Tom Mouse book. It is always emotional for me to return to Woolgrove School, but it always feels right to be there.’
Dicky is also the founder of Dads Cry Too” (DC2), a bereavement support service at Keech Hospice Care in Luton. The purpose of DC2 is to help dads on their individual journey towards adjusting and better managing their feelings following the loss of their child. It has been set up along with other dads who have also lost a child.
To find out more about the books and to follow Dicky Barr and Tom Mouse, and see photographs and a video from their London Children’s Hospitals Cycle Challenge, go to http://www.tommouse.co.uk