When Ewbanks Auctioneers
decided to stage a charity auction for the NHS they had a particularly personal reason for doing so.
Alastair McCrea, who heads the auction houses Entertainment & Sporting Memorabilia department, had just waved goodbye to his wife Caroline, who was returning to work as an Advanced Critical Care Practitioner in Intensive Care at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth after maternity leave, leaving 9-month-old Joshua at home with Alastair.
Joining her in ICU was her twin sister, Francesca, a doctor who was also returning from maternity leave having given birth to daughter Willow the day before Joshua was born.
Its been an intense experience for Caroline and Francesca, reveals Alastair. After Carolines first shift on April 2, she came home shell shocked at the level of patients coming into the hospital and just how sick they are. With both our parents in the vulnerable /elderly category and lack of nurseries available this is a tough time for us.
Alastair revealed that the hardest part has been the impact of the protective clothing and masks the hospital staff have to wear. This effectively removes the human element of nursing and care as the only personal contact is via the eyes. This is particularly striking because the patients are not able to have any contact with their loved ones during this time.
Alastair decided he wanted to support them in the best way he could, by raising money through a charity auction for Queen Alexandra and for the Royal Surrey Hospital in Guildford, where Joshua was born and near where the auction house is based.
Local businesses and individuals have been swift to react to the call for pledges for Ewbanks Rainbow Charity Auction.
I have appealed for people to donate experiences rather than objects, says Alastair, because I also want to support businesses where possible to help them get back on their feet after all of this, and I think it would be nice for people in lockdown to have an outing to look forward to.
Pledges so far include a hotel break, restaurant meals, a day of touring and tasting at Silent Pool Gin distillery, Indian food specialist Mandiras Kitchen and Albury Vineyard, a tour of Dorking Brewery, another of Denbies Wine Estate and even a free MoT.
We also have free tickets for the Guildford Flames ice hockey, signed football shirts from Fulham and Cardiff City Football clubs, as well as a selection of exclusive artworks and tickets for this years panto in Portsmouth, says Alastair. One of the best highlights is a painting donated by renowned artist Sherree Valentine Daines, from Leatherhead, who has exhibited at the Tate and is collected by the Royal Family, while another is a remarkable drawing of surgeons in the operating studio by Mark Rowbotham, another well-known artist.
With a small baby at home, returning to work on the Covid-19 frontline was a difficult decision, but Caroline and her sister didnt hesitate because they have a very strong sense of duty, says Alastair. Obviously, you worry when someone puts themselves in this position, but I couldnt be prouder.
Its not the first time the couple have had to rise to the occasion in an emergency. In 2015, two days before they were due to be married, their wedding venue, Clandon Park House, went up in flames, but they managed to arrange for the event to be transferred to Loseley Park, south of Guilford.
In many ways it made it an even more memorable occasion, says Alastair, but I think everyone concerned would have preferred not to have gone through that experience and to still see Clandon Park House in all its former glory.
Now, though, the couple are firmly focused on doing their bit.
Ewbanks Rainbow Charity Auction, a timed online auction will run from Friday, May 8 to the close of play on Monday, May 18.