LAUNCHING a unique new product to add to their range of home-made fudges should have been an exciting and unforgettable event for Justin and Helga Bowen.

They were set to unveil the first food produced using Droitwich salt in nearly 100 years. Amid a flurry of publicity, the world’s first Brine Salt Fudge, using salt extracted from the local brine on which Droitwich was founded, had its first official tasting at the town council meeting on May 15.

It was due to be officially launched and go on general sale at the Droitwich Spa Food and Festival last Saturday.

But the couple’s elation suffered a massive body blow when, on Monday May 22, Helga was taken into hospital and subsequently diagnosed with secondary cancer on her brain and abdomen.

She had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016 but the couple were determined not to let that stop what they were building so, although they had to scale back on their commitments, they managed to keep Wychbold Fudge going and growing until, in February 2017, Helga was given the all clear.

Justin and Helga set up Wychbold Fudge in 2014 after Justin took voluntary redundancy from his job working with young offenders.

He had started buying and selling high quality hand-make fudge brought in from Aberdeenshire - a job that would allow him to work around the needs of his young family while Helga continued to work as a full-time accountant.

Then after three months, Justin, who does all the cooking at home, decided he could probably make better fudge himself. So with a start-up grant from Wychavon District Council and some money of their own Justin bought a fudge kettle and started producing his home-made sweet treat.

The business - a real family affair with Justin making the fudge, Helga doing the accounts, wrapping, packing and selling, while son Bren and daughter Seren both as little tasters - grew from strength to strength.

They were delighted to be invited to join the project to bring Droitwich Brine Salt back after an absence of nearly 100 years.

Justin said: “We were asked if we would be able to use this wonderful local ingredient to make fudge and we were given a small amount of Droitwich brine salt to experiment with.

“This unique and extraordinary fudge has never been produced anywhere else or by anyone else and is a true local delicacy.”

He went on: “A week after the official tasting and all the publicity that surrounded it, my wife Helga was taken into hospital and subsequently diagnosed with secondary cancer of the brain and abdomen. A treatment plan was drawn up and she returned home a week later.

“This came as a huge blow. Aside from the effect on us as a family, we also realised it would impact on what we had been building with our business. We recognised we were unlikely to be able to continue supplying our customers and shops with fudge, so made the decision very quickly to let them know.”

But rather than preparing to wind down the business, Justin and Helga were overwhelmed with the milk of human kindness from a throng of supporters waiting in the wings.

He said: “But then something wonderful began to happen. Within days people had started to come forward offering to help. Not just friends and family, but also complete strangers who'd been told about our situation.

“They offered to help not only with things like child care, but also to wrap and package our Brine Salt Fudge so that we could continue to sell it in the local shops we supply.

“People had all sorts of reasons for wanting to help - for some it was because they or their loved ones had their own experience with cancer.”

He added that the help had come from unexpected directions such as Worcestershire Young Farmers who have pledged their ongoing help.

“At the moment when we were struggling the most, this overwhelming response gave us the inspiration to stand up and the resolve to make something good and positive from the situation.”

“While Helga's prognosis is unknown at this stage - she has just started chemotherapy for the second time - we resolved to do everything we can to create a lasting project that would not only secure some kind of income for our family, but also provide an on-going way of saying thank you to all the people who have come forward.”

Justin and Helga decided, with the help of their volunteers to use Brine Salt Fudge as a way of fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support.

The official launch at the Droitwich Spa Food and Drink Festival went ahead as planned, thanks to the help of the volunteers, and at the same time it became available from a number of local shops where people can also get information about what Justin and Helga doing, why and about Macmillan Cancer Support.

“From now on we will be using the proceeds from the Brine Salt Fudge sales to make a monthly donation to Macmillan. Our initial target is £100 per month, which would equate to approximately 10p from each bar we sell, but we hope ultimately to do significantly more than that. However, we are taking it one step at a time and are determined to build a lasting project.

“That is our way of saying thank you to all those who helped us stand up and to show others that a diagnosis of cancer doesn't mean the end,” said Justin.

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