By Andy Hirst

A grandmother is to do a gruelling Arctic trek at the age of 71 to help a Huddersfield charity in memory of her grandson.

Yvonne Whittaker’s grandson, Harry, had Down Syndrome and was just three when he sadly died in July 2014.

Harry was a child actor in Emmerdale, playing the role of Rhona Goskirk and Marlon Dingle’s son, Leo, between 2011 and 2014.

Yvonne is raising money for Shabang! in Slaithwaite where Harry attended and the charity works with children with additional needs and their families, providing fun creativity ranging from weekly music sessions to full-on theatre performances.

Some of the youngsters have gone on to acting careers like Harry, whose parents are Yvonne’s son, Kristian, and wife Katie.

Yvonne, of Skelmanthorpe, said: “When Harry was born Shabang! was one of the first contacts given to Kristian and Katie and it played such an important role in his life right from those early days. They were given to me by a friend who volunteered at Waves day care centre in Slaithwaite for adults with learning difficulties.

Harry Whittaker dressed as a pirate at Shabang! in Slaithwaite. Copyright Katie Whittaker

“Shabang! was somewhere for parents with babies and children with additional needs to go to play and meet up. Harry was so happy there and was always smiling. The wonderful thing about Shabang! is that they teach through joy by singing, playing and using Makaton sign language.”

Yvonne loves snow and being outdoors which attracted her to the challenge … and she’s not fazed at the thought of four days and nights out trekking in sub-zero temperatures. In northern Finland the temperatures at this time of year could plummet to as low as -30°C and doesn’t usually get above zero.

All the equipment including a tent, cooking equipment and food is strapped on a sledge which Yvonne will be pulling and pushing through the snow.

She said: “There are no set miles each day as we really will be at the mercy of the weather. If it’s bad we’ll hardly get anywhere but if it’s good we could cover a few miles. It’ll all be on snowshoes and skis.

“I don’t like to be very cold but I do love the snow. The last fundraising I did was walking 100 kilometres in 24 hours and I like a challenge which is we this Arctic trek has fired my imagination. Our family are such huge fans of Shabang! and the great work they do so I wanted to do something that would raise as much money as possible.”

Yvonne Whittaker with grandson Harry and his sisters Maisy (left) and Martha during a stay in Barnsley Hospital. Copyright: Yvonne Whittaker

The expedition will be in early March and Yvonne is training hard, walking around 6 miles every day – more at weekends – and swimming 45 lengths at Scissett Baths every weekday.

Yvonne has paid for the trip herself so every penny of fundraising will go to Shabang! (

The charity helps 80 families a month and during non-pandemic times stages around 170 events a year such as art and craft sessions, singalongs, pop-up cinemas, multi-sensory play, drama club, pre-school learning sessions and Makaton sign language training.

One mum said of Shabang!: “Shabang! has given my daughter who has Down Syndrome the confidence to interact with people and has provided our whole family with support and the chance to be somewhere our daughter’s disability isn’t an issue.

“All of our children love the family clubs and the creativity that happens there. Shabang! works tirelessly for children with special needs and has a huge positive impact on all those who are lucky enough to use its services.”

To help Yvonne’s fundraising please go to

* Written by former Huddersfield Examiner Head of Content ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR specialising in press releases, blogging and copywriting.