While fun is high on the agenda after the launch of the Maggie’s Penguin Parade, there’s a serious message behind the project too, as Gayle Ritchie discovers
Penguin fever has been sweeping the nation since the fantastic Maggie’s Penguin Parade launched earlier this month.
The project – which aims to raise vital funds for Maggie’s Dundee – challenges people to find all 80 giant penguin sculptures dotted throughout Dundee, Angus, Perthshire and Fife.
From golfers to comic book characters, each flamboyant five-foot avian attraction showcases a one-off design inspired by everything from the history of Dundee to climate change concerns.
The trail is proving to be fabulous fun, with penguin fans taking selfies alongside the models and ticking off their favourites as they go.
However, there’s a serious message behind the merriment, as Maggie’s Dundee centre head Lesley Howells points out.
Ultimately, the penguin trail was launched to raise funds for and awareness of Maggie’s Centres – a network of drop-in centres which aim to help anyone affected by cancer.
“There’s an undeniable excitement in the air and for me, what is so important is the joy that these penguins are bringing families, while also bringing out the child within us all,” says Lesley.
“But what is also important is the way the penguins have, in a gentle, non-threatening and engaging way, introduced a conversation about cancer to Dundee and Tayside as a natural matter-of-fact thing – not something that is dreaded and hidden away, but something that can be faced with the right support.”
As Maggie’s Dundee relies almost entirely on voluntary donations, funds raised by the auction of the penguins in September will be gratefully received.
“It is fundraising that allows us to provide the essential, expert support that we offer people with cancer, as well as their families and friends,” says Lesley.
“Through following the penguin trail, or reading about the penguins in The Courier, I hope more people will gain an understanding of the support Maggie’s offers and a sense of the warm, welcoming atmosphere of a Maggie’s Centre, in particular our stunning yet cosy Dundee Centre in the grounds of Ninewells Hospital.”
People often have misconceptions about what a Maggie’s Centre is like, says Lesley.
“We aren’t a hospice or a depressing place,” she says. “The truth is our professional staff provide a warm, safe space where people can draw on their expert support and knowledge to help find the best way for them of living with cancer.
“Quite often that means some tears, but more often it means a lot of laughter, kindness and common sense advice from people a few steps ahead of you in treatment.”
Ultimately, Lesley hopes that thanks to the penguins, Maggie’s will be able to reach many more people who could benefit from the centre’s free practical and emotional support on offer.
“I don’t want anyone to be overlooked or miss out on our help. I don’t think I can ever emphasise strongly enough the importance of Maggie’s, but rather than say that we offer benefits advice, or sessions with a psychologist, or gentle exercises like yoga – which are all hugely important for people – I think the importance of Maggie’s is seen most clearly in the change I see in people every day in the centre,” she says.
“I see them come in looking drawn and strained yet, regardless of their personal situation or diagnosis, time and time again I see them leaving looking more relaxed and with renewed confidence.
“The reach of the penguins is already being felt far further afield than Scotland and with them they carry the important message that Maggie’s is everyone’s home of cancer care.
“We are here for everyone regardless of age, type of cancer or background and whether newly diagnosed or having finished treatment.
“Everyone is welcome at the eight Maggie’s Centres across Scotland and I hope soon we will hear people saying: ‘I knew to come because of the penguins’ across the country.”
While Lesley understands it can seem daunting visiting a Maggie’s Centre for the first time, she wants to stress that there will always be a warm welcome.
The centres are open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm and support is free.
“People often say they feel a weight lifting just by walking in the door,” she says.
“I’ve lost count of the number of people who tell me they wish they had come sooner so I’d encourage everyone to pop in, even if just for a cup of tea. The kettle is always on.”
Coming back to the penguin trail, one of Lesley’s favourite models is Capguin Scott at Broughty Ferry Harbour.
Sponsored by Tayside Health Fund, she says it reminds her, on the 70th Birthday of the NHS, of the Maggie’s Centre’s close working relationship with the NHS.
There’s plenty of time to meet every member of the penguin colony ahead of a grand farewell event in Slessor Gardens on September 22 and 23 before an auction on September 24.
The trail’s artist coordinator Suzanne Scott hopes the trail and auction will raise at least half a million pounds for Maggie’s Dundee. She said: “It costs £540,000 to run Maggie’s for one year, so it would be good to raise at least that.”
Famous faces including Judy Murray, Simple Minds and Lorraine Kelly have been involved in designing or sponsoring a penguin.
A sticker book and smartphone app have been created to help you to discover all 80 penguins, rewarding users with penguin facts and detailed information about each of the designs.
Sticker books are £2 and trail maps are free but people are asked to make a donation to Maggie’s if possible.
Pick up your very own free penguin trail map and sticker book from Discovery Point, Maggie’s Dundee, Westport Serviced Apartments, Visocchi’s in Broughty Ferry and the Visit Scotland tourist office in City Square Dundee.
Trail organisers are also encouraging users to upload their own “posing with a penguin” pictures to social media and the app with the message, “the funnier the better”.
For more information, see maggiespenguinparade.com