WORLD Prematurity Day will be marked in the Capital for the very first time tonight when several of the city’s landmarks light up purple, following an appeal launched by Sarra Hoy.
The Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh Airport, Murrayfield Stadium, the Sheraton Hotel and Edinburgh University’s Centre of Sport and Exercise at the Pleasance are just five locations that will be marking the date – close to the Hoy family’s heart.
Sarra, wife of Britain’s greatest ever Olympian Sir Chris Hoy, has been instrumental in the campaign to recognise World Prematurity Day (WPD).
The colour change comes just a day after a new £1.5 million study, aimed at improving care for premature babies, was launched at Edinburgh University by Sarah Brown, wife of former prime minister Gordon Brown.
Mrs Hoy, a lawyer from Edinburgh, launched her appeal on Twitter last week, asking representatives from many of the city’s major landmarks if they would turn their lights purple to raise awareness for WPD.
Sarra and Sir Chris’s son, Callum, was born 11 weeks early last year. Now, the family wants to thank the “amazing” medical staff who helped them through a “difficult” time.
Mrs Hoy said: “The city’s landmarks lighting up purple will mean so much to families who are making their way up to the hospital to visit their premature baby.
“It will also mean a lot to the doctors and nurses who work tirelessly to help these families.
“We need to support these people and let them know that they are not alone. While I’ve been making inquiries, the amount of people that have replied by saying they know someone that has had a premature baby is unbelievable.
“Having a baby prematurely is something you just don’t plan for.
“It would be great to reach out and raise awareness of it in the city.”
Mrs Hoy’s idea of turning the city purple came from a worldwide campaign set up by Bliss, the premature and sick baby charity.
Since 2008, it has been campaigning to turn as many of the world’s buildings and landmarks purple on November 17 to mark the event.
Previous years have seen the Empire State Building and Niagara Falls support the cause.
Caroline Davey, chief executive of Bliss, said: “Fifteen million babies are born prematurely every year across the world, and 60,000 of these are in the UK.
“Unfortunately many of these babies won’t survive and it’s vital we use opportunities like World Prematurity Day to raise awareness.
“We’re delighted to have Sarra’s support and we hope several of Edinburgh’s buildings and monuments are able to light up purple to commemorate the day.”
Yesterday, Mrs Hoy welcomed a new research programme, Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort, launched at Edinburgh University by Mrs Brown, whose first child, Jennifer Jane, lived for just ten days after being born seven weeks prematurely.
She is the founder of Theirworld global children’s charity – the body funding the programme.
The research will track the development of 400 babies born before 32 weeks, following them right through to adulthood.
Researchers at Edinburgh University hope their work will help speed up the development of new treatments that could improve the health of these youngsters, who are more likely to develop conditions such as cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorders and learning difficulties.
Mrs Brown said: “This is a unique project which will help give babies the chance of the best start in life.”
Following the death of their first child in 2002, Mr and Mrs Brown set up a research fund to investigate the causes of premature births.
Mrs Brown was also one of the driving forces behind the establishment in 2004 of the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory, which is based at the city university.
She said: “Since the formation of the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory 12 years ago, we have been strong supporters of the ground-breaking work of the brilliant young scientists there.
“Now, this new Theirworld project opens up the opportunity to really study the long-term effects of early birth to enhance learning and develop new approaches to help babies with a vulnerable start in life.”
“We are so grateful to the families generously giving their time with their precious babies to share information and contribute to this study over the coming years.”
Commenting on the new research programme, Mrs Hoy told the News: “It’s just absolutely fantastic. It amazes me that people are willing to spend time looking into something that is so close to our hearts. It’s great that it’s come at the same time as raising awareness for World Prematurity Day.”
Representatives from landmarks across the city have expressed their delight at being able to support the cause.
Graham Law, a spokesman for BT Murrayfield Stadium and Scottish Rugby, said: “Sir Chris has been a very good friend to Scottish Rugby. He is an iconic figure in Edinburgh and Scotland.
“When Sarra got in touch to ask us to support an event that is close to their hearts, we were delighted to be able to take them up.”
Franck Arnold, general manager of the Balmoral Hotel, which was the first to agree to Mrs Hoy’s request, said: “When we heard that Sarra wanted to turn Edinburgh purple in support of World Prematurity Day, we did not hesitate to say yes.
“It is important to raise awareness for these little VIPs who need extra care and attention when they enter the world.
“We would encourage all the other buildings in the city to join us, and the other iconic landmarks around the world, in support of this fantastic cause.”
And Gordon Robertson, communications director at Edinburgh Airport, said: “We are pleased to confirm that Edinburgh Airport’s tower – which is often purple – will glow especially purple to help raise awareness and offer support for babies born prematurely in Scotland and across the world tonight.”
Mrs Hoy said it was “really humbling” that so many people and businesses have offered to help promote the campaign.
She told the News she hopes the event will now be marked every year in the city. Inviting the city to light up its most famous buildings purple this year was the first step of her campaign.
She said: “Bliss charity was really supportive of us when Callum came along so this is my way of supporting their campaign.
“The response and support I have had has just been incredible and I would like to say thank you to everyone.
“When Callum was born prematurely, myself and Chris received so much support from the public – people were knitting him booties that we didn’t even know.
“I think it is important that everyone receives that support. This is a starting point in ensuring that happens.”