The inspirational story of David Greaves

David in Tanzania in April 2015

David in Tanzania in April 2015 - Credit: Archant

David Greaves ‘a zest for life that was infectious’. Mike Smith reports

Family group  David with family and friends on his last birthday, 2015. Left to right: Sarah Greaves; Rodney, the Jack...

Family group David with family and friends on his last birthday, 2015. Left to right: Sarah Greaves; Rodney, the Jack Russell; Peter Else, Davids maternal grandfather, Chris Hill and Tom Cresswick, two friends from Davids time at Hope Valley College; Andrew Greaves - Credit: Archant

At the age of 30, David Greaves was enjoying the happiest time of his life: he had met Philippa, the love of his life; he was obtaining a great deal of satisfaction from his job working on London’s cycling strategy; he was a marathon runner and an Ironman Triathlete; he loved travelling the world and, in the words of his mother, Sarah, he had ‘a zest for life that was infectious’.

David was born in the Yorkshire town of Pontefract, but moved at a young age to the High Peak village of Bamford, where his parents became founder members of a Quaker community. As his mother recalls, David ‘enjoyed an active, outdoor, slightly feral lifestyle as a youngster.’ He was educated at Hope Valley College and went on to be awarded a First in History at Newcastle University, followed by an MA at Sheffield University. After a spell of teaching English as a foreign language in Spain, David moved to London, where he met Philippa.

At the time of his 30th birthday, in May 2015, David was enjoying a safari holiday with his family in Tanzania when he realised that he was having difficulty in holding his camera properly. This was the latest in a series of worrying physical symptoms that had been developing during the previous few months, including extreme fatigue and a general weakness which, as a super-fit young man, he had never experienced before. On his return to the UK, David underwent various tests before being diagnosed in June 2015 with Motor Neurone Disease, a cruel degenerative condition that kills more than one third of the people suffering from it within a year of detection, with more than half of those diagnosed dying within two years. As yet, there is no effective treatment or cure.

David’s reaction to this devastating news spoke volumes about his character. He asked Philippa to marry him, even though the couple knew that they would probably not have long together. After marrying in September 2015, near Philippa’s family home in Surrey, the couple embarked on another trip to Africa, where they climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, even though David had lost the use of his hands by this time and also required assistance in walking. This ‘2Fingers2MND’ challenge was undertaken, in part, as a means of raising money for the Motor Neurone Disease Association and succeeded in gathering £12,000 for their cause – a sum that has now risen to almost £100,000, thanks to the continuing fundraising efforts of David’s family and friends.

David and Philippa in Tanzania, January 2016

David and Philippa in Tanzania, January 2016 - Credit: Archant

The newly-weds moved to a flat in Newcastle, in order to be near David’s brother Peter, close friends, and his parents, Andrew and Sarah, who had relocated from the Peak District to Ingoe, in Northumberland. Over the following months, David’s condition deteriorated rapidly. He quickly lost the use of his arms, was unable to talk, eat properly or to breathe without the use of a ventilator. Even though he had lost the physical ability to write by this stage, he was determined to fulfil a long-standing aim of completing a series of children’s stories he had begun to create. The realisation of this cherished project was made possible by the use of ‘Eye Gaze’ technology, which enables the user to type solely by the movement of their eyes.

Having taken a decision about the moment when he would switch off his ventilator, David was able to pass away peacefully at home in September 2016, a week after his first wedding anniversary and just 15 months after first being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. During the final weeks of his life, friends who visited him were greeted with a message on his laptop that carried the words, ‘I love you.’

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David’s parents have chosen to honour his memory by establishing a publishing house called Stanage Press Ltd, ( with the purpose of eventually publishing all the children’s books their son wrote in the final months of his life. The first title they produced, in 2018, was Mr Snuffles’ Birthday, a heart-warming woodland mystery story in verse, beautifully illustrated by a member of David’s wider family, Emily Wallis. The tale follows the adventures of Mr Snuffles as he goes on a hunt through the woods in search of his favourite truffles.

The second book in the series, Philippa and the Homeless Bumblebee, first published by Friends of the Earth in 2015, and illustrated by Danielle Callaghan, is about a happy bumblebee who has her world turned upside down when her beloved meadow is destroyed. A brave child, called Philippa, comes to the bumblebee’s rescue and the pair set off on an eventful journey together to find the bee a new home.

David, the Iron Man Athlete, at Tenby in 2013

David, the Iron Man Athlete, at Tenby in 2013 - Credit: Archant

The most recent book to be published by Stanage Press, and illustrated once again by Danielle Callaghan, is The Homesick Fox, a melancholic tale with an uplifting ending, about the isolation and loneliness of an urban fox who has lost his way and yearns for his true home in the countryside. Without knowing where his paws will take him, the animal walks off in the night hoping to find a place he will be able to call home.

The Homesick Fox was published on 17th April this year to coincide with the Hexham Children’s Book Festival. Although this event had to be cancelled due to social-distancing restrictions, the publication of the book went ahead as planned. A second launch of the book, scheduled for 2nd May at the Bamford Village Institute, has also had to be cancelled. However, many Derbyshire people who knew David and his family from the time they spent in Bamford will be delighted to learn of the publication of his books. Berlie Doherty, Derbyshire’s prize-winning children’s writer, was due to appear at the launch. Her latest book, The Haunted Hills, will be published in August.

A number of Berlie’s stories take place in the very countryside where David Greaves spent his childhood, and which, as a young adult, he continued to regard as his ‘spiritual home’. The publication by Stanage Press of David’s delightful stories for children, written in the most difficult of circumstances, will ensure that there will be a lasting legacy of this remarkably courageous and inspirational young man. u

David Greaves’ books, published by Stanage Press, are available from Amazon, Waterstones, local independent bookshops and from Stanage Press Ltd, Ingoe, Newcastle-upon-Tyne NE29 0SP. The Derbyshire launch event for The Homeless Fox, scheduled for 2nd May at Bamford Village Institute, has been cancelled.

The cover for the Homesick Fox

The cover for the Homesick Fox - Credit: Archant