Support flows in from near and far for ill childcare teacher, designer

Support has been pouring in from all over the world for popular and inventive Raglan childcare teacher Simon Willisson, who is being treated for leukemia in Waikato Hospital.

The $4000 raised by Monday has come from as far afield as his native England, Ireland, America and Australia, says Aaron Zaini, co-owner of Let’s Grow Early Learning Centre with wife Kylie.

Kylie recently set up a donation page for Simon through the Givealittle website, and by early this week there were 50-odd donations ranging from $5 to $500. The couple hopes it will help their “dedicated” employee and friend feel free of financial stress while undergoing chemotherapy.

The 59-year-old has worked alongside the young couple “every step of the way”, says Kylie of the business they established on Wainui Road nearly three years ago.

Simon – who’s not only a teacher but also an accomplished movie and theatre set builder – was busy designing the Let’s Grow playground even before that, she adds, and has been Aaron’s right-hand man in terms of maintenance ever since.

The pair went on many driftwood-collecting missions down Mokau way, for instance, before Simon built Let’s Grow’s distinctive fences and its quirky child-friendly hobbit hole.

Aaron says Simon’s creativity extends well beyond fancy driftwood fencing, and he was building a playground out the back of the Local Eatery in Wallis St the day he was diagnosed with leukemia.

Before that he’d designed the set for last weekend’s local theatre production, ‘Oz’, in the town hall. And he’s done the same for Whaingaroa Youth Movement’s annual end-of-year dance production, which will be staged later this month.

Simon also put together the recent Let’s Grow art auction next door at Rock-It Kitchen, an event which this year raised funds for Raglan Volunteer Fire Brigade. Now, ironically, the local service wants to donate back to Simon directly from its next big fundraiser, the Firefighter Sky Tower Stair Challenge, which raises money annually for Leukemia & Blood Cancer NZ.

Kylie says it’s “amazing” how the community has come together to support Simon. Locals have not only donated to his Givealittle page but have supplied items from their businesses to be raffled off. “We’ve looked at every avenue to raise money for him … it just might bridge a bit of a gap.”

Simon is overwhelmed with the support, she says. “He would never ask for anything himself.”

Because Simon’s a man who needs to be kept busy, she adds, he’s certainly not wasting time while in isolation at the hospital. He’s working on the sequel to his first kidult novel about WillieSmak WidderShins, which was written with his young daughter, Ember, in mind and published back in 2014 by Amazon.

It’s a bit of a fantasy world that may help distract Simon from his health issues, his friends hope.


Lets Grow are running 2 raffles for their wonderful teacher Simon who is taking some time off to focus on his health, tickets are $2 each or 3 for $5, available to buy from the Let’s Grow office  (248 Wainui Road) A Big thank you to all the people who have donated to Simon’s ‘Give a Little’ page and who have also donated the items in the raffle.

Raffle one: 2 x photos from Raglan Photo Gallery,  citrine crystal & resin ring from Earth & Stone, bouquet of flowers from Raglan Buds Flower Farm, $25 voucher from Rock-it Café, A3 Raglan print from G.Design,  gourmet platter from Bach Bites, one hour remedial/relaxation or deep tissue massage from Raglan Seaside Massage, 1 jar of mango & tumeric & 1 jar of natural greek style Raglan Coconut Yoghurt, 1kg jar of Raglan Honey, 5 bottles of Duck Point wine from the Poulter Group, an organic face care pack from Saya Skin Care, a t.shirt voucher from Bad Things and a $60 voucher from the Local Eatery.

Raffle two: 2 x photos from Raglan Photo Gallery,  a wash/cut/dry from the Hair Box, a family Christmas FeastBox,  assorted popcorn bags from Sweet as Popcorn,  A4 moon print from G.Design, family size churro pack from Raglan Cruisers, jar of blackcurrant & vanilla Raglan Coconut Yoghurt, $25 voucher from Rock-it Café, 1kg jar of Raglan Honey,  6 pack of beer from Raglan Brewing Company, a surf lesson for 2 from Green Wave Surf School, a t.shirt voucher from Bad Things, a succulent centre piece from Ginny at For the Love of Landscape, apparel & accessories from the Raglan Surf Co and a facial from Sarah Sands.

The raffles will be drawn on December the 16th.

*Go to to donate to the cause. Or buy raffle tickets directly from Let’s Grow at 248 Wainui Rd.

Edith Symes