Thank you!

Our Indiegogo crowdfunder closed yesterday morning, having raised the fantastic total of over £14,500 to go towards our equipment costs! Within half an hour of it closing, we received four emails from people who had missed the deadline but wanted to donate – therefore, we have added a PayPal donate button to our homepage. If you missed donating but would really like to and prefer not to use PayPal, please get in touch by info@heartsmilkbank.org and we will send you our bank details.

This was a huge team effort, and Gillian and I not only thank every one of the 227 people who contributed financially, but the huge numbers of people who helped to make it happen.

The film was shot over a weekend at the home of Silke and Frank Durm, who both gave their time and a huge amount of effort to hire the equipment the weekend before, and provide such a warm welcome and hospitality to the milk bank team who moved in for 48 hours! This simply could not have happened without them.

The film itself was directed by the wonderful Meg Thompson, a renowned film producer who guided the rather nervous novice group of milk bankers and parents, and showed no fear of working with the large number of children who took part! And the beautiful quality of the film is completely due to a pair of very talented videographers, Kotryna Sniukaite and Jason Chua, who gave up not only their weekend, but many many hours thereafter to cut the six hours of interviews down to the final four minutes.

And then the music. The beautiful track Angel was sung by Claire Tchaikowski and arranged by the awe-inspiring Neil Davidge (Massive Attack was the soundtrack to my medical school days…!). It isn’t every day that two such talented people pop out of the woodwork and offer to help for free, but given the number of times it has happened over the last nine months, we now just accept the universe is trying its best to help.

Finally, we were supported day by day throughout the campaign by Naomi and Silke who divided up sending thank yous to everyone who donated, and by the army of Tweeters and Facebookers who shared our posts, especially Simon at Facebook who went above and beyond to ensure that we reached as far and wide as possible! Facebook loves breastfeeding – who knew?!

The campaign had its ups and downs, and looking back over the last two months we have learned so much from our early mistakes. Throughout, we weathered family crises, looking after poorly kids and keeping life going while knowing another Tweet could help bring more vital funds in, if I could just get the message across in 140 characters. I’ve gained a heap more grey hairs but an unshakable conviction that this milk bank will work, and a bright 2017 is ahead!

So on behalf of this wonderful team, thank you to everyone who helped, baked cookies, ate cookies, and put in your hard earned money!

Milk and cookie parties – the start of a tradition!

It’s World Prematurity Day! To mark the day and celebrate all families affected when children are born too soon, a series of Milkshake and Cookies have been going on today across the country. There has been a lot of laughter, hugs, tears and much needed fundraising going on – here is Gillian at an event in south London today!

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To mark the day, we have also launched a 2 minute appeal for the Hearts Milk Bank ( https://app.crowdcaster.com/media/sYvzfzfNzDjpjAn7S) that will lead onto a series of podcasts that cover the range of our work in collaboration with  crowdcaster.com – a new and exciting social enterprise that aims to give people a voice online. Please listen and share as widely as possible, and listen out for more coming soon.

Best wishes to all, and thank you for your ongoing support,

Natalie and Gillian

The WISE Awards 2016

We are so elated to be helping to fly the flag for women in science at the WISE Awards tonight. Dr Natalie Shenker was nominated for the Hero Award by the Althea-Imperial Programme at Imperial College and is now down to the last three – slightly overwhelmed to be up against the Vice Chancellor of Swansea University and the Director of the Magnox Programme at Sellafield.

The WISE Campaign was founded to encourage more women and girls to consider and pursue STEM subjects. The traditional male dominance of science has begun to be challenged, but a recent study has shown the UK lacks 50,000 female scientists across all fields of study. This is critical for society -unconscious gender biases while carrying out research can skew results, lead to incorrect or incomplete conclusions, and even endanger women – in a classic case, the engineers who originally developed airbag technology in cars failed to take breasts into account, leading to a number of deaths. Simply put, gender balanced teams in general lead to more productive research.

Being shortlised is recognition not only for Natalie’s work to establish the milk bank and raise the profile of donor milk, but also for her work in developing a research programme across the country for studies into breast milk and maternal health, especially breast cancer risk. Tonight she will be meeting Princess Anne and a host of dignatories to represent milk banking, the scores of people who have invested time in he mission to establish the Hearts Milk Bank, and all women who juggle children, families and pretty difficult careers in science and medicine.

Yes Natalie, you can put your new shoes on now – good luck!

We are making the news!

This week has seen the Hearts Milk Bank featured in the Evening Standard, JC, Herts Advertiser and Link West’s blog today. On Thursday we are off to record a radio programme and the word is spreading daily – our heads are spinning slightly but it has not diverted us from the key job of getting the milk bank up and running by the end of the year.

This week has seen three more hospitals sign up, a decision made on our premises (watch this space!), and more hospital meetings later this week. Tomorrow night, Natalie will be talking with regional health leaders at the Cambridge Business School, and on Thursday Gillian and Natalie will be presenting at the Startup Showcase at Tobacco Dock in east London. Gillian will then be ‘pitching’ to 300 investors in only one minute!

On Friday, we are off to UNICEF’s Baby Friendly Initiative Conference in Birmingham, and are rather excited by the first showing of the Breastfeeding Advert – an example of what one woman, Claire Czajkowska, can do with 2 years and a team of scores of people who want to make a difference to the perception of breastfeeding. The main launch is on January 21st, and Natalie will be speaking about her role in providing some of the science advice for the project. The event is sold out, but watch out for updates on Twitter (@Milk4TinyHumans) and Facebook.

Please keep sharing our fundraising link – we have an amazing total already and can do so much good with every £. Thank you!

Busting the milk banking myths

No. 1: Milk banks don’t exist.

Come up with an idea and you’re inevitably faced with a whole raft of reasons as to why it will fail, why it can’t succeed and, well to be frank, why you’re daft for even thinking it might. We figured we would have a lot of questions to answer when launching the Hearts Milk Bank crowdfunding drive, and the first 48 hours proved this to be true!

So, to get all those obstacles out of the way right at the start, we thought we’d bust through some of the donor milk and milk banking myths out there. No pun intended.

First and foremost, milk banks… they’re real, they’re necessary, they provide potentially life-saving breastmilk to babies, and they exist all around the world (560 in fact, with 206 in Europe alone).

In the UK there are currently 15. Each accepts donated surplus milk from carefully screened breastfeeding mothers, treats and stores it, and then organises deliveries to hospitals that care for premature and sick babies.

Donated breast milk is, according the World Health Organisation (WHO), the best alternative when new mothers are too unwell to provide milk themselves. It prevents many complications and saves lives.

Demand for donor milk is increasing, but provision in the southeast of the UK is not. This has led to many hospitals in the region not being able to access donor milk at all over the last year. What is needed is a service that can grow with demand, and that’s why the Hearts Milk Bank has been created by a leading expert in UK milk banking, Gillian Weaver, and a doctor and researcher, Natalie Shenker. As one consultant put it, “I would give it to every baby in the hospital if I could get it.”

Let us know your experiences of donating milk! Please also share any reasons you’ve come across as to why people think milk banking, donating and accessing breast milk are not great ideas so we can bust some more myths in the days to come.

Help us to establish the Hearts Milk Bank!

Today is the day – after 6 months of work from a team of over 20 people, we have launched our crowdfunding campaign! By the time I have even managed to post this, we have already raised over £1000 – critical momentum to build towards our target.

As a start-up, and the first ever social enterprise milk bank in the UK, it is incredibly difficult to raise the necessary investment to create the safe and sustainable service that is so desperately needed – nobody wants to take that first risk. But we have been brave, and a little bit bold, and ever so slightly single-minded, and completely believe in what we are doing. If we can show support is out there, we have the chance to raise the full amount we need to start operating by the end of 2016 – we will literally be helping to save lives of scores of babies by preventing life-threatening complications of prematurity.

Please watch our film here that explains how breast milk protects sick babies – we will be telling you more about the children featured and their parents over the next few weeks, but safe to say there have been many tears shed in the making of this beautiful 4 minutes.

Thank you for sharing!

Our soon to be “home”

There are many items on our wish list, but near the top is a facility that has laboratory space, a back-up generator to preserve the precious milk if the power fails, and reliable security. We have been offered exactly that at the University of Hertfordshire, which means that our volunteer courier team at the SERV Herts and Beds branch will be able to nip in and out to whizz milk around the M25 and beyond with ease. The picture shows the beautiful new University of Hertfordshire Life Sciences building, which opens this term. We’ll be in a smaller building just over the road, but we hear the canteen is great!

World Breastfeeding Week

Monday, August 01, 2016

To mark World Breastfeeding Week, we wanted to highlight that one of our core aims is to support parents with breastfeeding, by providing advice when things are difficult, acting as a centre for education, working with local breastfeeding support services, and enabling sick babies to access safe donor milk when their own mothers are unable to breastfeed themselves.

The UK has some of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world, as highlighted by the Lancet series published in January 2016.  Continue reading “World Breastfeeding Week”

Welcome to our blog

We are building up slowly, so please bear with us! The Hearts Milk Bank was established as a social enterprise in May this year. A radical solution was needed to address the postcode lottery premature and sick babies face when donor milk is needed. It has been a very intense few months of organisation, planning and the all-important funding applications, and we will be updating you here on our progress!