He’s not the stereotypical hospice care worker but former soldier Gareth Clay is one in a million.

Put more precisely, Gareth – who sports close-cropped hair and a tattoo – is one in 15 as the only male care team member at Huddersfield’s Forget Me Not Children’s Hospice.

Married Gareth, 29, of Fixby, served for six years with the Royal Engineers in Salisbury rising to the rank of lance corporal.

A former rugby league player with Greetland All Rounders, Gareth is a real action man who loves running and cycling.

When he came out of the army, as a qualified bricklayer, his career was at a crossroads.

Brought up by a single mum with three sisters in Siddal, Halifax, he’d always taken looked after his family so caring was the obvious choice.

He completed an NVQ in Health and Social Care and worked in residential care homes for several years until he secured a job as care team member at the Forget Me Not Hospice in Brackenhall last October.

He now cares for some of the most vulnerable youngsters, many coming to the end of their short lives.

“It’s a job I love,” said stockily-built Gareth, who has a large tattoo of a guardian angel clearly visible below the short right sleeve of his polo shirt.

“I am the only male care team member at the hospice and sometimes people do a double take but it’s all about stereotypes. They don’t expect a man to be caring for children with illnesses and disabilities.”

Gareth Clay, right, a care team member at the Forget Me Not Children's Hospice in Huddersfield, after a tandem skydive from 15,000ft as part of his Four Challenges for Four Grand.

Gareth, who lives with science teacher wife Nicola, 28, soon bursts the stereotype.

“Looks can be deceptive,” he smiled. “As soon as I start chatting to them they can see I’m a nice chap! Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

There is no such thing as an average day for Gareth who provides respite or residential care for children at the hospice’s Russell House base or visits families in their own homes.

Much of his work is one-to-one play, sports and activities but there are also day trips out. Some families, particularly brothers, prefer a man to do “boy stuff” like kicking a football around.

There is also unseen work, too, chores like bed-making and ironing, administration and paperwork and medication and feeds.

Gareth also helps families cope emotionally in the most heartbreaking of circumstances.

“It can be an emotional rollercoaster at times but it’s not about me, it’s about the families,” he said.

“The strength some of the families show is incredible and it’s amazing how strong they can be.

“But we have to be strong for them, too. There’s no point in me being a dithering wreck because that’s no help whatsoever.”

Gareth is able to talk with colleagues and handles the emotions through physical exercise.

The shifts of care workers can be up to 12 hours a day but, if he wasn’t busy enough, he decided to volunteer as a fundraiser for the hospice.

Last December he launched a series of punishing physical challenges called Four Challenges for Four Grand.

Gareth Clay, a care team member at the Forget Me Not Children's Hospice in Huddersfield, who completed Four Challenges for Four Grand.
 

He agreed to take part in a 15,000ft tandem skydive in Lincolnshire, a 54-mile West Yorkshire cycle ride, the Yorkshire Three Peaks walk and a Tough Mudder assault course challenge in Skipton.

The aim was to raise £1,000 from each event but it soon became clear that sponsors alone wouldn’t be enough.

So Gareth also set about organising a series of fundraising events including a rugby match, a rock night and a quiz night.

Gareth Clay, a care team member at the Forget Me Not children's hospice in Brackenhall who completed Four Challenges for Four Grand. He is pictured on a Yorkshire Three Peaks walk.

He has beaten his £4,000 target and now wants to reach £5,000. Even though the four challenges are over people can still donate.

“It’s been a struggle fitting in work, fundraising and training but it’s been really rewarding,” said Gareth.

“It’s humbling when you think you will raise £200 at an event and end up raising £500.”

Gareth’s challenges also saw him lose a stone in weight and he joked: “I’d heartily recommend it. Ditch the diet and start fundraising!”

Gareth Clay, a care team member at the Forget Me Not children's hospice in Brackenhall who completed Four Challenges for Four Grand.

He is now planning his next challenge. “Whatever happens I won’t stop,” said Gareth.

The hospice opened Russell House in December 2012 and now provides care for dozens of children and their families from Kirklees, Calderdale and Wakefield.

The charity needs to raise £3.2 million a year to continue its work and just 4% of its funding comes from the Government.

Gareth has been hailed an inspiration and hospice spokesman Ryan Grint said: “What he has done is incredible.”

Click here to help Gareth with his fundraising.