Norwich’s Own Biscuit Jill

How did you Become Biscuit Jill ?

“In Norwich, a project developed called ‘The Biscuit Appeal’. About seven years ago through my business, (I run conference Centres through my church), I went along to the Big C Centre which is a cancer centre in our local hospital. It’s a centre designed for those who have just been diagnosed with cancer and who are undergoing treatment. Anyone needing help or advice about cancer can go there. I went there as a business person together with several others, and as you walk in the centre the first thing the staff say is: ‘come in, sit down – would you like a cup of tea and a biscuit?’ I asked, ‘who supplies the biscuits?’ The staff replied, ‘nobody’. I was astonished I felt sure a local firm or supermarket would supply them because it is such a wonderful place. They had always relied on donations or taken the money out of funds. I thought, ‘that’s not right we have to step into that gap, I must do something.’

I went home and I set up a Twitter account calling myself Biscuit Jill. My thought was, ‘if people went to the supermarket and there was a ‘buy one – get one free’ offer, I could collect the free ones from the people and I could take them to the hospital.’

It’s an important part of care to be able to sit down with a cup of tea and a biscuit. It helps people to have conversations which are so important at that most terrible time of your life when you (or a relative) have been given a dreadful diagnosis. You’ve just been given that news and for a few minutes you’re doing that British thing of having a cup of tea. No matter what is happening in the world we Brits will sit down and have a cup of tea with a biscuit.  And for a little while, you can be assured that everything will be OK.

So that’s how it started eight years ago. I get phone calls or Tweets from people saying they have spare packets of biscuits. I’ve met people in all sorts of places: car parks, train stations, bus stations. Wherever they are I go and collect their biscuits. 

At the start I was given two or three packets at a time. That was fine because every single packet makes a difference. I would then take them to the hospital so the nurses knew they would be able to give all their visitors biscuits.

It has developed because companies heard what I was doing and they invited their staff to do the same. They sent out an email asking if people would consider donating a packet of biscuits. They brought the biscuits, put them in a box and then I go and give a little presentation about how important these gifts of biscuits are. I take photos and put them on social media because this is so much more than just a packet of biscuits. It enables people to cope with difficult news. 

So, a little community of ‘biscuit-givers’ has spread. It’s very interesting that the companies say it’s made a real difference to the staff within that company as they chat about the special offers on biscuits locally. They are talking with one another and that is important too.

So biscuits have become a way of building community. Some families take part as well. There are those that spread the news not to give them a birthday but to donate biscuits to my appeal 

Have you ever been recognised in strange places?

I was very fortunate to be able to go to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero which was wonderful. I was in the departure lounge at the airport and went to the gate with my boarding card and handbag and was about to step on the plane when I was tapped on the shoulder.  I wondered what I had done, and I turned around. There was a lady with a carrier bag, she said: ‘You’re biscuit Jill aren’t you! I saw you in the departure lounge. Here are six packets of Custard Creams.’

I got on the plane and had to stuff the packets of Custard Creams into pockets and bags! I flew to Brazil. Of course, I was stopped going through customs and was searched revealing all these packets of biscuits! I had to lay them all out for the Customs Officer. He looked at me, looked at the biscuits and said: ‘Madam, we do have food in Brazil you know!’

Now I think a lot of people don’t know me as just Jill, they only know me as Biscuit Jill. I always count and log the packets of biscuits donated, I put them in date order so the oldest are used first. The Centre has about five hundred visitors a week.

I have just collected my 32,000th packet. Now, let’s just think how many people have been able to sit down and have a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits on the back of this really simple idea.

Sometimes we have a simple idea but convince ourselves that it’s not going to make any difference. However… 32,000 packets of biscuits later…Contact Details 07985 763405 @BiscuitJill