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Memory box idea leads to MBE for MBA25 student

By Sara Fitzsimmons - Posted on 21 February 2018

Sara Fitzsimmons is a former midwife who started a charity SiMBA to help bereaved parents. Awarded an MBE last year for this, she is also studying for an MBA. Here, she talks about her charity journey from idea to reality, and the impact her studies has had on her.

I qualified as a midwife in 1995 and worked throughout my career in Simpsons Maternity in the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh. Even as a student midwife I was involved in supporting bereaved parents who spent time in the labour ward, only spending a very short time with their baby before going home. They received very little - a brown envelope with ink pad hand and foot prints and a Polaroid photo. I just felt that bereaved parents at the very least deserved a memory box – like the one I made for my son Luke, now 19 - which would encourage more time with their baby, capturing timeless memories of a very short time together.

In 2005 I asked friends to join me in raising funds for Memory Boxes and together we raised £2,100 and purchased our first 100 boxes. Other maternity units soon heard about our concept and asked if we would be able to provide them with Memory Boxes – and SiMBA started to grow. By 2007 we started to receive donations, something we hadn’t considered, so to do everything correctly we became a registered charity in May of that year.

The first support for bereaved parents comes from the hospital staff, then we offer our Memory Boxes. We redesigned our Memory Boxes in 2017, a massive project, but it was apparent that many parents were still not actively involved in the memory making and it’s crucial it is their memories that need to be stimulated when they looked in their Memory Box. The items have now all been chosen carefully to encourage just that. Support from SiMBA continues after parents have left the hospital – we have five online support groups that parents and grandparents can access as soon as they feel they can. We also have 14 monthly support groups across Scotland.

We provide training in association with CHAS to hospital staff and students, guiding them through bereavement care, communication and memory making. We also work closely with bereaved parents – their feedback is vitally important.

Bereavement care is something that can still be seen as a taboo subject. In November I received a letter, in strict confidence, that I would be receiving an MBE in the New Years’ Honours list. It took me a bit of time to accept being ‘awarded’ for something I do every day. I now feel humbled that someone has taken the time to nominate me for this honour, an honour that I now accept with immense pride and for this ‘taboo subject’ to be recognised in this way shows that people are willing to talk, listen and learn.

Our Memory Box programme reaches out to people during their most devastating time; it shows that we all care, and also gives the staff something to focus on with the families in their care. I’d like to reach out to every pregnancy support, maternity, neonatal unit and hospice across the UK who would like our boxes. We currently donate our Memory Boxes to 225 wards but there are many more who need our service.

At the end of February we will move to new premises – very exciting for the charity, especially since we started in a cupboard underneath my stairs! The new premises will give us meeting space, volunteer space to make up the boxes, have craft groups and families will now be able to drop in if they just want a chat.

We run purely on donations and fundraising. Many of the families who receive a Memory Box do fundraising for SiMBA in their baby’s name so it’s important to them and us that they can have somewhere that can support them through their events. This year we’re doing a big push for people to take part in the Kiltwalk. Thanks to Sir Tom Hunter and The Hunter Foundation, who underwrite the Kiltwalk, all charities taking part will receive an additional 40% fundraising boost. We are also looking for corporate partners to support SiMBA for 2018, not just to raise funds, but so we can raise awareness of the work we do too.

I’m now nearly two years into the MBA25 course at Strathclyde. I received a call pretty much out of the blue saying that someone had put me forward for a charity scholarship for the course – it was a bit of shock as I hadn’t been thinking of studying at the time. I was sent all the information and invited to William Grants for an interview. The more I found out, the more I realised what an amazing opportunity this would be.

I got support from my family and Charity Trustees then I received the phone call to say I’d been successful. I was scared and truly honoured at the same time. The journey so far has been totally amazing. It’s definitely challenging – but it is an MBA after all!

I have learned so much. My background is a midwife who started a charity but I am now learning a lot more about business. I’m already able to apply so much to the charity - we have all changed so much, especially in the last year as I’m able to bring my learning back to the office. The Operations Management assignment is where the new Memory Box re-design idea started.

The support I have received from the team at Strathclyde and William Grants is what is getting me through the course and I’ve been blessed with the most amazing cohort in class – the support is phenomenal. I just want to get to the end and I’m now hoping that I will have MBA as well as MBE after my name – how amazing would that be!

Contact details

 Undergraduate admissions
 +44 (0)141 548 4114

 Postgraduate admissions
 +44(0)141 553 6118 / 6119


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