Kath Ryan, affectionately known as ‘the cake lady’, has been bringing home comforts to injured soldiers for more than ten years. It started when she was visiting her sister in Selly Oak Hospital Birmingham and had brought baked treats to cheer her up. Kath’s sister shared them with the injured soldiers, and they asked for a slice of the action. Since then Kath visits wherever injured troops are moved to and it’s amazing how far a cake and hug can go. We found out more about her story…
PUTTING a smile on the faces of injured servicemen and women has been part of the pleasure for Kath. “It shows the simplest of things can brighten someone’s day, and worth the effort to bake and visit,” she said. “It makes me smile too.”
Chris Blackburn, who has benefited from Kath’s hospital visits, agreed: “We come back injured and lighter than when we left for operations.
“Kath comes in having baked cakes out of her own money, in her own time, to give us a treat and lift our spirits. From personal experience I can tell you this lady is awesome.”
Despite being described by the soldiers as a legend, Kath remains incredibly modest. She explained: “They are a true inspiration, overcoming the odds, showing such courage, perseverance and determination on their recovery journey, and I’ve been so privileged to be part of it.”
Part of the family
For the soldiers whose families live far away, Kath has been like a mum. “I’m in a very privileged position that I visit the hospital and rehab so there’s a continuity for those recovering, and it’s wonderful to see them improving on each visit,” she added.
“For those whose families are in other countries, I might be their only non-military visitor. I know it cheers them up and they will often send me messages asking for cake lady visits.
“I get invited to weddings, christenings and various events and I’m treated like part of their family, which shows the cake round is a big part of their recovery.”
Hospital staff have also seen the difference Kath’s visits have made. A nurse on the ward said: “The cakes are a brilliant way of getting extra calories into them.
“Not only is it a great source of morale, but helps with wound healing and mental health recovery.”
Parents too have found comfort from Kath’s support. Jane was with her injured son at Fisher House Birmingham when she met the star baker.
She said: “When my son eventually came out of intensive care, we had several weeks when he was not at all well. He was in pain, tired, and frustrated. I was in the corridor when this vision in a Union Jack dress and a jaunty HMS Cakes sailor’s hat swept up.
“The nurses thought it would do him good to see her, so she went in with her trolley laden with delicious cakes.
“It was the first time that he’d smiled since he arrived; she genuinely communicated with him in a way that we had failed to do. It was a real turning point.
“Later, when he was moved to Headley Court, Kath came into her own for me. I was alone in Norton House one damp dark evening in November. We’d had some bad news regarding my son’s recovery, and I was feeling very fragile.
“Kath arrived, having done her cake round, took one look at me, gave me a huge hug, and said she’d be back in a minute. She came back with a bottle of wine and a bag of crisps and held me while I cried and told her all my worries. I shall never, ever forget that night.
“Kath is always there on the phone to support me. She is an absolute gem and I don’t think I could have coped without her.”
Rob Bugden, who is currently serving and undergoing rehabilitation, added: “What can I say about this incredible woman, what she does and how much it means to us all?
“I first met Kath after being injured in a parachute accident. She kept turning up to see me with a smile, fresh orange juice and my favourite triple chocolate brownies.
“She quickly became a friend to me and my family. Not only has she helped me at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Headley Court and Stanford Hall, she also made regular visits during my darkest hours at the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville.
“Just to be able to take your mind off what has happened over a cake and a hug has and will be the most vital part of my rehabilitation.”
Kath’s work has received some fantastic recognition and she’s appeared on Surprise, Surprise, Australian TV and received a Points of Light award. But for Kath it’s all about raising awareness for those who are prepared to put themselves in harm’s way for us.
She said: “Not only do they get injured in conflict zones, but on special missions, accidents and then there are those battling cancer too. It’s important to remind the public that they still need our support. It’s not headlines now but those coming to hospital still need to feel valued and cared about.”
Kath plans to keep her baking going for as long as she can and has already thought of ideas for the future: “The guys often ask if I would teach them to bake and I would love to be able to, but I don’t have the facilities.
“My dream is to have a log cabin fully equipped and totally accessible, where I can teach small groups to bake, and we can enjoy the cakes of our labours.”
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