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The Wessex Neurological Centre Trust (WNCT) was founded as a registered charity in December 1982 with the primary objective of providing charitable support for research into disorders of the nervous system conducted at the Wessex Neurological Centre, and Southampton University. Between then and 2004 it used its relatively modest income to fund a number of projects, perhaps most notably through its sponsorship of the Fausto Iannotti Scholarship. Named in memory of a brilliant and greatly respected Professor of Neurosurgery, who had himself died as a result of a brain tumour, the scholarship promoted and encouraged the exchange of clinical and research knowledge by enabling clinicians to spend time working in research laboratories, before taking the experience gained back into the clinical environment.
Little more than a year after Professor Iannotti’s untimely passing, aged just 49, the sudden and unexpected death of an even younger individual was to trigger a chain of events that had a dramatic impact on the charity’s future fundraising achievements. Richard Bowler, aged just 15, collapsed whilst training with his local youth football club in Sarisbury Green. He was found to have suffered a subarachnoid brain haemorrhage from which, sadly, he never regained consciousness.
Family and friends were devastated, vowing that some good should come from the tragedy, and the following 18 months saw over £29,000 raised by ‘Smile4Rich’ events in memory of the always smiling teenager. These funds were used to sponsor projects that benefitted children in the local community, as well as donations of over £8,000 each to the Wessex Neurological Centre Trust and the Portsmouth Hospital’s Rocky Appeal following a Smile4Rich Fun Day held in December 2003 (see S4R Fun Day for details).
In April 2004 it was agreed that ‘Smile4Rich’ would become the public face of fundraising for the WNCT and the trustees approved the launch of a major new appeal to fund the purchase of a dedicated Neuro Intensive Care Ambulance for the Wessex Neurological Centre (see 'Discover More' for details of this and other projects). Since then the charity has enjoyed considerable success, raising well over £600,000 to fund a variety of cutting-edge equipment and innovative research projects.
In 2010 it was decided to re-brand the charity’s appeals to ‘Smile4Wessex’ to more closely reflect the region and unit it supports. This was a difficult decision, but one which has the full support of Richard's family, who remain active and generous supporters of the charity. Of course, we shall never forget the fact that their tragic loss was the catalyst to a campaign that has benefitted so many, and the charity’s annual gala dinner will continue to be known as the Smile4Rich Gala and our annual golf day will continue to be played for the Smile4Rich Trophy in honour of his memory.