DESPITE the chronic illness that has dominated her own young life, the charity founded by a former Prudhoe High School pupil is going from strength to strength.

This year, Project Parent, launched by Kate Stanforth (23), has expanded again, even though her days are dominated by pain and exhaustion.

She has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, meaning her joints, such as hips, ankles, shoulders and wrists, dislocate on a horribly frequent basis, and also that energy-sapping disease ME.

The combined effect is that, for the most part, she is restricted to her family’s home in Stocksfield and more often than not, in bed.

But during her many trips to hospital – at least three appointments a week is the norm – it was the plight of parents coping with even worse situations that caught her attention and her sympathy.

“I have been ill for 10 years now and the EDS is a chronic illness, so I’m not going to get better from it,” said Kate.

“I realised from spending a lot of time in hospital myself that there isn’t enough support out there for parents and I wanted to do something to help them.”

The fact her own parents, Tracy and Steve, have spent a lot of time pacing hospital corridors over the years made her sensitive to the needs of those in even worse situations – parents whose children were in intensive care or had been diagnosed as terminally ill.

They were the forgotten people in the scenario, she realised. “Particularly at Christmas,” she said. “When you go into hospital at Christmas, the focus is on the children, of course.

“If you go into the RVI (Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle) there are tons of gifts that just come pouring in, but there is absolutely nothing for the parents who will equally be spending their Christmas in hospital.”

The upshot, in 2014, was Project Parent, the vehicle for sending gift boxes that bring a little light into the darkest of times.

They typically contain a mug, tea bags, coffee, confectionery, toiletries, perhaps a mindfulness colouring book, and then some of the incidentals that can make a difference in hospital – ear plugs, eye mask and headphones.

Ringtons is Project Parents’ biggest sponsor, providing the tea, coffee and biscuits, while the Lush soap company has been generous too. SCA donates the packets of tissues that go in, and the Salto printing company prints the hoodies worn by the volunteers Kate has enlisted to help.

And there is a growing army of them – volunteers, that is. Last year, she upped the number of hospitals she supports to five.

Where they are in the country depends on where the volunteers who reply to her adverts are based. Currently she has (???) volunteers and the hospitals are in Newcastle, Leeds, Lancaster, Bristol and Southampton.

On top of the staples provided by Ringtons and SCA, each area leader, as she calls her key volunteers, is given a budget to make their own choices about what goes into the boxes.

There is also the legion of family and friends who support her too. They include her sister Abi and three-year-old nephew Jack, who live just up the road. “Jack loves helping to pack the boxes,” Kate laughed.

Boyfriend Carlos, who she went to school with, and his family are a great help too, and there’s her friend and trustee of Project Parent, Danielle Falcus, who she couldn’t do without.

“All my family are involved really,” she said, “and the local community generally has got so much more involved of late.

“I got a couple of grants to begin with, but after they ran out we had to start raising the money ourselves and then people really began helping us – it took off last year.”

New for 2018 is a series of crafts days, on the last Saturday of each month, designed to provide a steadier stream of income.

Using the Elisa Rose Tea Room in Mickley as a venue, she has organised workshops in things such as painting, cake decorating and caligraphy.

Next month it’s pottery and participants will come away with a teapot crafted by their own fair hands.

“Our workshops sell out in just a few days, so that’s keeping me busy at the moment,” said Kate.

She is already busy preparing the boxes that will go out in December. The year she started, she sent 30 boxes to Newcastle’s RVI, using the £300 start-up grant she got from the O2 Think Big scheme.

Think Big subsequently gave her another grant, this time for £2,500, and in 2016 anointed her enterprise the Most Inspirational Project, a national award.

In the meantime, the number of boxes dispatched by Project Parent rose to 250 in 2015, 291 in 2016 and then last year, to 350.

Kate is proud of her team and the tremendous feedback they get from parents, who are otherwise too busy worrying about their children to think of themselves.

“That really gives me a massive focus,” said Kate. “I wake up in the morning with loads of ideas and it gives me a huge boost.

“I really enjoy planning and organising things, too. I love doing what I’m doing!”