Skip to main content

In 1943 Tenovus Cancer Care was founded by 10 local businessmen supporting a friend in need. Over the years, Tenovus Cancer Care has grown and changed, but some things have remained constant.

We continue to care about our community and being there for cancer patients when and where they need us most. We care about finding a cure by funding vital research, and about preventing cancer in the first place. We care about doing this where it matters most; in the heart of the community. This is what is at the heart of Tenovus Cancer Care today.

How Tenovus Cancer Care began

It all began with a sense of community, a generous gesture and an act of goodwill.

Alongside lifesaving research and launching innovative support services to cancer patients and their loved ones, Tenovus Cancer Care has never lost the values established by our founders in 1943.

It all started with a disruptive radio

On an August day in 1943, Cardiff-based haulage contractor Eddie Price was unloading machinery when one of the heavy lathes fell on him. He was badly injured and was rushed to Cardiff Royal Infirmary Hospital.

Before the accident, Eddie had come to the rescue of local businessman, David Edwards, when he ran out of petrol. David wanted to say thanks to the stranger for the kindness he’d shown him, so he sought out Eddie, but was troubled to hear that he was seriously injured in hospital. It’s recorded that David said to his wife:

“This chap did me a good turn, now I’m going to return the favour.”

David Edwards was an influential businessman and managed to get five of the best medical specialists to Eddie’s bedside. Even with this crack team of doctors looking after him, Eddie still took three months to recover.

Friends of Eddie Price visited him in hospital regularly, and one of them brought in a portable radio to help keep the patient entertained. In true 40s nursing style, the ward sister banned it for being too disruptive!

While in hospital David (DR) Edwards and other friends of Eddie’s started to meet around his bedside, and when Eddie had recovered, the group wanted to show their appreciation for the care he’d been given. DR recalled:

“There were ten of us. So we called ourselves Tenovus”.

The ten men raised the money to equip the hospital with headsets so the patients could listen to the radio and not be disruptive. A relay system was even set up from Ninian Park stadium so they could hear commentary on the Cardiff City football matches! 

The group didn’t really intend to start a charity. But they had 'a momentum of their own', and soon people started to approach them with causes and projects that were desperate for their help.

So, in the midst of war, a horrible accident and a noisy radio, a new charity was born.

In 1943, Tenovus was founded by ten businessmen, D.R. Edwards, C.Harris, G. Brinn, C.E. Rolfe, D.Curitz, G.T. Addis, T.J.E. Price, H. Thomas, H.E. Gosling and T.Curitz.

From a resting place in Burma to a colour TV in Cardiff

At the close of the Second World War, the charity was becoming well established and was raising money for the people in South Wales and further afield. The business men raised a staggering £26,000 in six months to fund ‘Cardiff House’ in Burma, a safe haven for troops returning from war and imprisonment to recover before coming home.

They went on to fund other big projects like the Sunshine Home for Blind Babies, the Sunset Retreat Appeal for the elderly and the Save the Children Rainbow Club in the deprived area of Bute Street in Cardiff docks. They didn’t just support big, highly visible projects, but gave their support directly to people in need.

This included paying the travel costs for a mother to visit her son in hospital when he was being treated for cancer or flying a Rhondda miner home from Australia when he was diagnosed with heart problems, and providing a colour TV to a fourteen year old girl in hospital who had terminal cancer. Sadly, she only had a month to enjoy it.

There were so many more people and projects that Tenovus supported both in their community and throughout the country. The original ‘Ten’, and their growing army of passionate volunteers and fundraisers, raised many thousands of pounds for hundreds of good causes over those first few decades.

A flood of letters and public support

Considering how the charity started, it’s no surprise that Tenovus continued to support local medical facilities and research. They donated radios and TV sets to a number of hospitals and nursing homes to make life more comfortable for patients.

In addition to this, Tenovus also wanted to make contributions to vital equipment to medically support the patients too. They gave money for a portable X-ray machine, hospital beds, a heart and lung machine as well as ultra-sound scanners to hospitals all over Wales. Grants were also given to research projects like the Polio Research Fund and a research programme in Cardiff concerned with the heart.

Research was incredibly important to the charity members, who were particularly concerned with local medical issues and wanted to address the unusually high incidence of spina bifida in Wales. In the early 60s, spina bifida rates in South Wales were almost double that of England and in the industrial Valleys, the rates were the highest in the world!

To tackle this, the members of Tenovus launched an appeal to help fund a research and treatment centre in Cardiff and had the most incredible response. The appeal hit the TV, the papers and struck a chord with the public, with events being held all over, including a donkey derby in Cwmbran, a premier showing of the Bond film ‘Thunderball’ in Cardiff as well as a walk from Jon o' Groats to Land’s End.

The organising secretary Bryn Calvin-Thomas said, “We received a flood of letters containing amounts from £100 to a shillings worth of stamps”, and with such a huge response from the appeal, the charity was able to open the Tenovus Spina Bifida Unit at the Cardiff Royal Infirmary in 1967. Experts in the field later acknowledged Tenovus as having pioneered the work in this area.

Putting cancer under the microscope

Tenovus funded many research fellowships, scholarships and equipment all over the country. Their first major funding was for a research project at Trinity College Dublin, but they soon went on to fund cancer research in Glasgow, Cardiff, Southampton and Kings College London.

In the community however, the charity continued its strong local support, including the Cardiff Royal Infirmary, funding breast cancer research, medical equipment and staff for a number of cancer projects in the hospital. But it was at the new University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff that one of the biggest projects took shape.

In April 1967, after many years of planning and funding, the Tenovus Institute for Cancer Research was formally opened by Royal Patron Princess Margaret, coinciding with the first Tenovus Cancer Symposium. Over 85 eminent scientists from all over the world attended and the conference prompted international publicity and acclaim.

The institute became a renowned centre for breast and prostate cancer research and also housed tissue culture and Leukaemia research laboratories. Scientists at the institute were at the forefront of the development of the drug Tamoxifen, the mostly widely used breast cancer drug across the globe which has saved millions of lives, and Zoladex which treats prostate cancer.

Bringing treatment and support into the community

In 1962, it was decided to set up a sister charity called Tenovus Cancer Information Centre. The leading members of the charity were keen to promote early control and detection of cancer, and educate people on cancer prevention. Before this time, some considered cancer to be a taboo subject and that it was a disease that was shrouded in secrecy and rarely talked about.

Thanks to Tenovus and other organisations, things have changed.

Screening was very new at the time but Tenovus funded several early detection programmes such as the cytology caravan in 1967. In the 80s, they purchased a mobile screening unit that provided cervical smears for women in the community, taking services closer to home, an aim that is upheld in initiatives of Tenovus Cancer Care today.

Building on the concept of taking treatment into the community and closer to patients, in 2009 we launched our first Mobile Cancer Support Unit, a mobile chemotherapy treatment unit that cut down patient travel time, took the pressure off over-stretched cancer centres and improved the lives of thousands of cancer patients. Our second Unit launched in 2013, delivering lymphoedema treatment in the communities, and a third and fourth Unit in 2018. These ground-breaking vehicles have continued the charity's work of treating even more patients in their communities.

Treatment on the road is an example of Tenovus Cancer Care understanding the unique challenges faced by people in Wales, such as rurality and poor access to care. Just like our founding members, we want to support our community, so our mobile cancer treatment and support initiatives don’t require patients to travel long distances to hospitals for their treatment. We take the treatment to them.

Support at the end of the phone, and so much more

The Tenovus Cancer Information Centre, which was based at Velindre (Cardiff’s biggest centre for cancer treatment), continued to grow and evolve to meet the needs of patients. The charity became heavily involved with providing counselling and support for people who had been diagnosed with cancer, and Tenovus was there for the patients and their families when they needed them most.

Gradually a team of specialist nurses, social workers, welfare rights and benefits officers and counsellors was established, working in hospitals across Wales. But Tenovus still felt that more needed to be done for cancer patients and their loved ones to access the support they needed, so in 1992 the Tenovus Cancer Helpline was launched, offering support to cancer patients and their families.

Just a few months later it was made a freephone service, making it one of the first free cancer support phone lines in the country. There was a staggering response (in 1995, the helpline took over 10,000 calls) and the service became widely used.

Today, our Support Line is open 365 days a year. It is manned by trained nurses and volunteers so there is always someone to talk to.

Meanwhile, our Benefits Advisors have helped thousands of people claim the right benefits, get travel insurance, secure ‘blue badges’ and emergency grants as well as fighting for people to get back to work. All of our life-saving services continue to make a huge difference to patients and their loved ones during a cancer diagnosis.

Singing, support and cups of tea

It was a snowy evening in Pontypridd in 2010 when we opened the Sing with Us’ doors for the first time. There weren’t many people at our first rehearsal, but one of the first through the door was Lynfa.

‘“I was very apprehensive because I came on my own. I felt like I had no support during my cancer treatment, but the choir was so supportive, and they welcomed me in with open arms and a cup of tea. It was my saviour really, I was with people who I knew were going through or had gone through the same experience as me.”

In 2011, we conducted research into the benefits of singing for cancer patients and their families. The results of that study were so positive that we applied for funding to set up more choirs. We were awarded a £1m Big Lottery Grant to set up 15 Sing with Us choirs across Wales.

Following this success, in 2012 we were asked to put together a very special choir, for a Channel 4 documentary ‘Sing for your Life’. The documentary featured a choir of cancer patients, created by us, and followed their journey from the very first rehearsal in Cardiff, all the way to the Royal Albert Hall.

Our ethos has always been, you don’t need to be able to sing and every voice counts. Since  that first snowy night, we’ve set up Sing with Us choirs across the country, offering weekly accessible support for cancer patients and their loved ones.

We wanted to understand more about the science behind the singing so we undertook a research study with the Royal College of Music in London to see if singing in one of our choirs has biological effects. The results of this study were fantastic and we announced our ‘More than Singing‘ research in 2016. The next step of this study was to launch two new choirs in London to help investigate the positive effects of choirs for people with cancer further, and we’ve recently received the exciting results.

From abseils to bake sales

From the beginning, fundraising groups have been central to our efforts. The first group to be set up was called the Tenovus Cardiff Committee, followed by the Cardiff Ladies Committee and the Junior committee.

From the late 60s other groups were formed around the country and became known as the Friends of Tenovus Cancer Care groups. 

Today, we have Friends groups right across the country, each dedicated to raising funds and awareness. From coffee mornings to gala balls, our members give their time, efforts and skills to raise vital funds and carry the Tenovus Cancer Care message out into their communities.

Our fundraising has been incredibly inventive. John Burke, a local business man and influential member of the charity, proposed the idea of a ‘football pools league’ and in 1959 he set up a non-profit company, the Cancer League, to administer the ‘pools’.

It would cost one shilling to join and two pence of that would go to the charity to support cancer patients. The rules around the ‘pools’ changed in the 80s but the Cancer League adapted and released their ‘Family Favourites’ puzzles and games booklet. Between these two projects, the Cancer League raised over £10 million by the end of 2003.

Before the National Lottery there was the Tenovus Lottery! Throughout the 80s you could buy lottery tickets up and down the country from kiosks sited in Asda, Littlewoods and Tesco. In 1986, combined revenue for the lottery was around £165,000 across kiosks situated in Asda and Tesco. And as the mechanics of the lottery changed over time, so did fundraising at Tenovus!

It was at this time that we launched our shops programme. But it was back in 1967 that the Cardiff Ladies Committee set up the first ‘pop up’ bargain store, raising £2,215 in just a week - that would be £38,987.96 in today's money!

They continued with bargain stores into the 80s and in 1985 took over a shop in Whitchurch Road, Cardiff for a trial period. The shop was recognised as a great way to raise funds, and it was decided to make it permanent in 1987. Today, we have around 60 charity shops spread all over the country, turning cardigans into care, shirts into support and rags into research.

Supporters have swum, walked and run thousands of miles for us. Our 'superheroes' have scaled mountains, abseiled down buildings and jumped out of planes… all for us!

Over the years, we have also had some fantastic corporate support including in 2012, where we were honoured to be the charity partner for the Ryder Cup 2012. Our presence at the biggest event in the golfing calendar gave us a chance to gain exposure, raise awareness and hold many fundraising events.

All those hours of effort and commitment have got us to where we are today. Whether it’s a gift left to us in someone’s Will, a big event or a local community fundraiser like Mr Gilbert, charging “a shilling a snip” from his ‘beard shave’ back in 1970. Every minute given and every penny raised has helped us support people in the heart of the community.

The key to prevention and early diagnosis

Education, prevention and influencing policy are a big part of what we do in Wales and the UK. The charity has always been educating people about health issues and in the early years, the members not only funded research facilities for polio, spina bifida and cancer, but also raised awareness about these diseases.

The message of the charity was simple - “Prevention and early diagnosis are the keys to cancer cure. Public education is the key to prevention and early diagnosis”.

As early as 1963, Tenovus funded a van to travel around Wales to bring anti-smoking messages to young people. During the 80s you could find stop smoking information at our lottery kiosks throughout Wales.

Our Quit with Us campaign took smoking cessation messages and information to workplaces, doctors surgeries and community spaces, and even supported people through social media.

We don’t just sit by when we see a challenge, we provide evidence based ideas for the NHS and government of the day, to use and improve the lives of people affected by cancer. In 1965, the Tenovus Cancer Information Centre petitioned the House of Commons for cervical screening facilities, with signatures from over 250,000 supporters.

In 2009 we ran our first Here Comes The Sun campaign, going out into communities in our Suncream Van to encourage sun safety and even helped change un-manned sun bed legislation after presenting our petition to the Welsh Assembly.

Since 2014, we have been a leading campaigner for vaccinating both boys and girls against human papillomavirus. The vaccine is already given to adolescent girls, but boys are excluded from the vaccination programme, even though head and neck cancers are on the rise in males due to the virus. We are continuing to work hard to secure a further roll out of the vaccination, with jabs already being provided in clinics for men who qualify.

It was in 2015 when we embarked on our most ambitious policy project Let’s Talk Cancer. In partnership with the Jane Hodge Foundation and the Institute of Welsh Affairs we engaged with 9,000 people affected in some way by cancer. Instead of inviting people to rate their services, we put people affected by cancer in the driving seat, asking them how they would like to see their services developed.

The stories and ideas collected from this campaign formed the foundation of our manifesto in the Assembly Election in 2016 and brought about change in the way people control their services.

We brought together a coalition of health charities in 2016 to campaign for improvements to public health in Wales. The group consisted of over 20 organisations and represented a broad range of health interests. Our work in this area led to the introduction of Health Impact Assessments to improve the health of communities and tighter restrictions on tobacco and alcohol sales.

So much more than shaking buckets

Tenovus Cancer Care was founded by ten volunteers, and it’s our volunteers that have been the backbone of the charity for the last 75 years. Those first ten supported others from their community, helping to raise vast amounts of funds, spreading the word and raising awareness about cancer.

Our Friends of Tenovus Groups, the shop volunteers, the bucket shakers and corporate supporters, have all given their time and energy to help make the charity the success it is today. But it’s not just about raising funds!

For the last seven and a half decades, our volunteers have been supporting us in all sorts of ways. Our Trustees and committee members are all volunteers. Our Patrons and celebrity supporters all give their time free of charge. Volunteers support our research and health and well-being teams, taking our prevention messages into the community.

We have volunteers working on the front line, in hospitals, health centres and on our Support Line, helping make life easier for cancer patients and their families. Volunteers give a huge amount of support with administration tasks, giving inspirational talks and raising awareness in their communities.

Tenovus Cancer Care today

In 2023, we celebrate our 80th birthday and our incredible history of supporting people in the community. In all those years we’ve never lost the values established by our founders in 1943, and continue to embrace a sense of community in everything we do.

We are proud of everything we have achieved so far and all of the millions of people who we have supported through their cancer journey.

If you or someone you love has been affected by cancer, our free Support Line is there for you. Just call 0808 808 1010