The story of our charity

Since FORCE (Friends of the Oncology and Radiotherapy Centre, Exeter) was first registered as a charity in 1987 it has developed a vital role in providing local cancer services. Our work is founded on the belief that anyone diagnosed with cancer deserves the best possible support and treatment close to home. We initially operated out of a small room at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital and had no full time employees. Driven by the desire to improve support for local cancer patients, FORCE has grown into one of the region’s most loved and respected charitable organisations. Our administrative headquarters are within our pioneering Support and Information Centre in the grounds of the RD&E and we have an annual turnover of more than £1million.

The early years

In the first 10 years our focus was on research and buying equipment for the hospital. The charity developed from the merger of two local appeals – the Selectron Appeal and HOPE (Home Oncology Programme Exeter), under the clinical direction of FORCE co-founder Dr Chris Rowland. HOPE enabled patients to receive treatment at home rather than in hospital while continuing with normal activities of daily living, giving them a greater sense of control over their own lives.

Dr Rowland also investigated the scientific basis for this method of treatment, conducting research into which chemotherapy drugs could be given in this way and how the body dealt with them, so as to establish the best treatment for that patient. Pioneered in Exeter, home infusional chemotherapy has since been developed further and is now readily available across the UK and the world.

Setting standards for the world to follow

Also in 1987, with support through FORCE, Dr Rowland brought individualised radiotherapy in the form of high dose-rate internal Selectron treatment to Exeter. He and his team undertook pivotal work with this treatment machine, making Exeter the first centre in the world to develop its use in a wide range of cancers. As a result of this work, such radiotherapy treatment equipment is now standard nationally and internationally. Through the success of the Selectron work and the HOPE programme, Exeter became firmly established on the global cancer research map.

In 1991 FORCE appointed a clinical research assistant, and it was this post which became the foundation for the highly successful clinical research programme at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital today. FORCE grew steadily through the 1990s and the Trustees decided to extend the charity’s remit to develop non-clinical support for cancer patients and their families.

The next phase in our history

In 1997 the charity appointed its first Oncology Support Specialist. The following year a one day a week Support and Information Service began in the hospital and this pilot project confirmed the need to extend our support services and find a designated area or building. In 1999 FORCE handed over the management of its research to the Institute of Clinical Sciences – now part of the Force64University of Exeter Medical School. At the turn of the millennium we raised more than £500,000 for the first time and the following year an appeal was launched to build a Support and Information Centre for anyone affected by cancer.

After a three-year appeal the Centre opened in September 2004, thanks to more than £900,000 raised by local people and the tireless work of our fundraising team. In its first year the Centre received more than 9,000 visits, nearly double our original projection. It soon became clear that we needed more space and in 2011 an appeal for £350,000 was launched to build an extension that would almost double the size of the Centre. Incredible public generosity meant the target was quickly reached and the new extension opened in December 2012, enabling us to increase the range of services available to anyone locally touched by cancer. By 2012 the number of visits to our centre during the year had risen to 15,500 and that figure is now nearing 20,000.

Thanks to a significant legacy, FORCE now has a designated fund to continue purchasing state of the art equipment to improve cancer treatment. In 2014 we expanded our services into two new locations. We hold weekly sessions in Okehampton and Tiverton, offering support, counselling, advice, information and complementary therapies. Further outreach is planned for East Devon.

“You don’t realise how valuable a charity like FORCE is until you need it. The work they do is amazing.”