At 8pm each night, 11-year-old Max Woosey puts on his pyjamas, collects up his teddies, his Beanos and his torch, says goodnight to his parents and makes his way to the garden.
Because it is here in a tent he sleeps, every single night, and has done now come sub-zero frosts, heatwaves, and even Storm Bella, for 452 nights and counting…
What started out as part boyish adventure, part wish to do good, has become the most astonishing act of kindness and dogged determination to make a difference.
Most of us remember Max’s incredible initial fundraising act, which began in March 2020, when the schoolboy from Braunton, Devon, decided he would raise £100 for his local North Devon Hospice by sleeping outside in the tent given to him by a dear family friend, Rick Abbott, who was able to die at home thanks to care from the hospice the month before.
Rick, 70, who had cancer, told him to “have an adventure” in the tent. Max decided to sleep in it for a year and raise money for the hospice in return, would be just that.
But after the celebrations surrounding his remarkable achievement died down on March 29th, after inspiring 1,000 other children to take part in a Big Camp Out, he is still refusing to sleep indoors.
And he has raised £640,000 to date for the hospice, which thanks to him has avoided making nurses redundant despite the crushing effects of the pandemic.
Speaking on Monday, his 450th night, he explained: “This started with Rick and I feel as long as I’m still in the tent his memory stays with me.
“He was lovely and one of the kindest friends I knew. It makes me so happy to know I’m helping other people, it makes me stand a little bit taller and helps me get through the hard times.
“Sometimes when I remember Rick I get a bit sad. And when I’m in the tent and it’s soaked, it’s hard. There was a time when it collapsed on me and it was soaking and I was tired and I came in and started crying, but I went back out.
“Rick meant so much to us and thanks to help from the hospice he died with his friends at home. Without their help we couldn’t have managed.
“If I can just help people die comfortably and happy with their family and friends that makes me feel happy.
“If you make someone happy you will feel happy yourself, and I will keep doing this as long as they let me.”
‘They’ are his parents, who for all their pride, would now dearly love Max to sleep in his warm, dry bed.
Mum Rachael laughs with utter astonishment at her son’s resilience.
“He’s refusing to come in,” she said. “There was one night where in the middle of the night he had a sickness bug and I drew the line and said come in, but he didn’t go to bed.
“I tried to get him to do a sleepover at his friend’s house to see if we could break the cycle, and I got a phone call at about 10pm to pick him up because he said it felt wrong.
“He has a residential with the school coming up and I have no idea how that will go.
“He does like sleeping outdoors, he loves his tent, but he feels he is somehow cheating if he does sleep inside. He says with the school trip he doesn’t have a choice, but sleeping at a friend’s house he feels he does. That doesn’t sit comfortably with him.
“When we have visited his grandparents he has slept in the tent in their garden.
“We are going camping as our family holiday on Exmoor because he won’t do anything else!
“Because he has raised so much money we feel we have to let him do his thing. He says he will know when he’s ready.”
Although she shielded Max during the final weeks of Rick’s life, she explains she wanted him to know the support the hospice provides is not a frightening thing.
She says his action is born from a natural sense of doing right.
“He has always had a sense of what is right and wrong, and he is very kind,” she said.
“He is one of the few children I know that when he sees you at the end of the day will ask how you are. He is interested in people and I think kindness follows because you care about them.”
Max has met the hospice staff but not yet been inside because of Covid-19 restrictions.
There, his camping has meant services have continued to be offered during the pandemic without cuts, and patients and their families have been supported.
They estimate the pandemic causing the closure of their charity shops and fundraising has cost them around £1million.
Leo Cooper, Communications Officer at North Devon Hospice, said: “Max’s kindness has been the major factor in everything he has done, he’s not done this for the limelight and I don’t think he ever thought anything would come of it. He did it because the hospice had played a real role in the family’s life.
There are several ways you can volunteer or help your local community.
First, think about what interests and what causes you’re passionate about. Consider what skills you have, and how much time you can realistically give.
To find opportunities, you can:
- Ask a friend, family member or neighbour if they need help with anything. There are plenty of community Facebook and Whatsapp groups you can use to offer your services.
- To find opportunities in your local area, you can contact your local volunteer centre.
Volunteer centres are local organisations which provide support to volunteers and organisations they work for. You can use the NCVO’s volunteer centre finder here.
Volunteering Matters also runs volunteering projects and programmes for people looking for part-time, full-time and event corporate volunteering:
“Then the catastrophic events of 2020 happened and his first thoughts weren’t for himself, or his schooling, it was for the hospice and what might happen to the hospice and throughout this he has been thinking about us at every turn, even though he could easily have been distracted by the attention. He’s an incredibly kind young man.”
The hospice supports up to 3,000 people a year.
He added: “Most charities have been cutting services during the pandemic and many hospices have had to cut services and staff. We haven’t had to do that in large part thanks to Max.
“We have been able to keep all our services going, including community nurses going to homes, our bedded unit providing 24 hour care, our counselling teams for patients and families.
“His story and kindness has meant we can carry on reaching everyone we possibly could during the pandemic.”
Max, who’s now been through seven tents, fully admits he enjoys camping – not least because it means he can read his Beanos for as long as he wants.
But it’s clear the glow of doing something good – a feeling at 11 he can barely explain – is carrying him through the rainy nights.
“I think I’m happier since I started doing this,” he said.
“I’m waiting for the day to come when I stop enjoying it!”