It is a cruel nightmare that no parent should ever have to face. 

But losing her son during a tragic sporting accident became Julie Keane’s reality – and one that would shape her future.

Now, 23 years on from his death, she has taken her grief and used it to help others faced with bereavement.

Iain Hickson died in a canoeing accident when he was at university in Wales. He was 19 years old and just days away from coming back home to Norwich for Christmas.     

Eastern Daily Press: Iain Hickson died in 2000 aged 19

Ms Keane, 67, who is also Norwich’s lady mayoress, now volunteers for East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (Each) and says she feels a strong connection to the charity

"It’s often hard for parents to talk about children they've lost," she said. "Not because of our pain, but because of the reaction of the listener.

"Other people imagine the loss of their own child and are so upset they shut the conversation down very quickly.  

"To be truthful, it hadn't occurred to me until recently that my loss had anything to do with my support for Each. 

"It was a sort of an ‘ah-ha’ moment, but then it seemed obvious.  

"Thinking things through gave me insight into why I might have chosen to work for Each." 

Eastern Daily Press: Julia Keane working at the Each charity shop in Norwich

Ms Keane volunteers weekly at the Each store in Unthank Road and has also been in her prestigious role since May 2021.  

Her partner, Kevin Maguire, is lord mayor of Norwich and his term ends this month (May 23). Normally the position lasts for a year, but it was extended to two due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  

During this time, she has enjoyed carrying out her duties while also helping in the shop every Tuesday afternoon. She added that clothes bought from the charity shop have helped her look the part too.

She said: "I’m a retired nursery teacher and started volunteering when the shop reopened after the first lockdown. 

"I was concerned that so many charities had reduced funding during the pandemic and wanted to help.  

"I’ve also found working at Each really useful for getting appropriate clothes for my role as lady mayoress.  

"It’s been a real boon and if ever I’m complimented on what I'm wearing, I always tell people where I got it from. 

Eastern Daily Press: Julie Keane and partner Kevin Maguire outside Buckingham Palace, wearing a fascinator bought from

"I’ve already suggested to my predecessor that, if she needs them, she’ll find some lovely clothes at Unthank Road!"  

The lord mayor is the first citizen of Norwich and represents the people of the city, alongside the lady mayoress.  

Ms Keane, who has two surviving children, also loves working for a children's hospice because of her previous career working with youngsters.  

She said volunteering suits her personality and would recommend it to anyone.  

"I love talking to customers," she added. 

"But I’m also aware that sometimes people are bringing in items they’re clearing from the house of someone who’s died.

"We handle those donations with particular care.  

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"I was talking to one man about a table centre piece he’d brought in after clearing his parents' house.  

"He said it was always used for parties, but he wasn't sure if anyone would want it.  

"I told him it would be popular and that we’d certainly be able to sell it.  

"He went away happy, but, just as we were closing, he knocked on the door and asked if he could have it back.  

"Talking about how his parents had used it had brought back memories and he realised he wasn't ready to let it go."  

  • For more information about volunteering, speak to a member of staff in-store or contact volunteer services on 01223 205183. Alternatively, email