A LEADING footballer has been unveiled as an official ambassador for the hospice which cared for his dying grandmother.

Middlesbrough defender Ben Gibson called into Teesside Hospice for a festive visit – and his new role was announced at the same time.

The Nunthorpe-born player, who graduated from Boro’s Academy before breaking into the first team, said he felt it was important to support the charity because of the way staff cared for his grandmother in 2001.

“I am very pleased to visit the hospice and am proud to be the new ambassador. Teesside Hospice is a place that is close to my heart and I was keen to be involved in helping in some small way to make a real difference to the lives of even more local people,” he said. “The chance to come here, meet the patients, hear how accessing the hospice care has improved their quality of life and the support that has been given to their families is amazing.

“My family have seen first-hand the great work that Teesside Hospice do. My Nanna, Florence Harris, was transferred to Teesside Hospice in August 2001 where she died of pancreatic cancer. She spent the last week of her life there and was treated like the Queen.

“It was more like a luxury hotel. The staff made her feel comfortable and settled in her final days. They even played her favourite music to her while massaging her feet.

“My family will be eternally grateful to Teesside Hospice for the comfort it brought them. And the support they received from everybody within the hospice. I’ll be honoured to be ambassador of such a fantastic charity that we need to maintain to ensure that so many more families receive the care my Nanna experienced. I’ve always seen it as part of my job to be a positive influence through sport and charity. Hundreds of Boro supporters and their families have accessed care at Teesside Hospice. I want to help ensure this vital service is available to everyone who needs it.”

Maureen Thompson, the hospice’s chief executive, said: “We are proud to have the support of Ben, a passionate and high-profile footballer, who can champion us to a wide audience. We rely on the support of the local community through their fundraising and awareness raising efforts. With the help of our ambassadors we are able to reach more groups, attend more fundraising events and have greater representation in the communities of Teesside.”