IN 1993, 12-year-old Zoe Hitchman passed away after falling ill with meningitis.

Twenty-seven years later, her sister Claire Hughes is completing a list of 40 challenges to commemorate what would have been Zoe’s 40th birthday.

Claire Hughes, 42, is a manager at the surplus food charity SOFEA. She lives in Didcot with her husband Lee Hughes, 52, a self-employed driver and her daughter Megan, 16, who is a student and actress on the BBC.

Mrs Hughes is also mum to 22-year-old Courtney – a senior nurse at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford best known to many for her annual Secret Santa campaign delivering Christmas presents to patients in hospitals, hospices and care homes.

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Zoe passed away after battling for many days in hospital with meningitis when Mrs Hughes was just 14.

She recalls: “It was all very sudden, and it was a very difficult time for family, the community of Didcot and the school and her friends.”

October 23, 2020 would have been Zoe’s 40th birthday and to mark it, Mrs Hughes decided to create a list of 40 challenges to complete before Zoe’s birthday.

The pinnacle item on the bucket list is a celebration and not a challenge: Mrs Hughes wanted to hold a ‘pink proms in the park’ in July around the time of her sister’s death.

She wanted everyone to wear pink and celebrate because pink was Zoe’s favourite colour. However, due to coronavirus the celebration has been postponed and will take place next year.

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Mrs Hughes said her list was an accumulation of things Zoe would have loved – and things she herself is scared to do.

It also includes sleeping in a haunted house, dying her hair pink for a week, singing with Jason Donovan, learning to drive and using a zip wire.

Another task was 'random acts of kindness', and before the lockdown Mrs Hughes and her family had been sending out small pink crochet hearts to locations across the world.

The hearts were hidden for others to find each with a sticker saying #fortythings4zoe on it.

The hearts have been taken across the world with the help of friends and family.

Mrs Hughes said: “Since October last year we’ve been leaving them all across the world. They have been left in Iceland, America, Canada and all around the British Isles.

“There have been some people who have messaged us to say, ‘we found this in Canada, this is really lovely.’”

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The aim of the pink hearts was to raise awareness of meningitis and raise money for the Meningitis Research Foundation.

Mrs Hughes said: “Obviously we have had to cancel a lot of the things, and what we decided to do was to just maintain some level of remembering her this year.”

Mrs Hughes’ daughter Courtney, as well as working as a nurse, is currently supporting 200 elderly people and working with the food surplus charity SOFEA to send out food packages.

She suggested to her mum that they should pair up and knit the two schemes together to create ‘kindness for key workers’.

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The scheme is similar to the random acts of kindness initiative, however, instead of pink hearts the hearts are blue to symbolise and thank key workers including nurses, teachers and shop assistants.

Inside each blue heart there is a little gift for the key worker.

People are able to refer anyone for a ‘kindness for key workers’ blue crochet heart.

The gift can be for an NHS worker or simply anybody who is currently supporting somebody in their community.

Once someone has been referred Mrs Hughes and her daughter will send out one of the random acts of kindness to them.

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Mrs Hughes said: “It is just a little token of appreciation and it is allowing us to keep our 40 things going, it’s just something that we as a family want to do.

“It’s about keeping her memory alive this year, but it is also about giving back a little bit.”

She added: “There are lots of people doing something in the background that aren’t doctors or nurses, they might be teachers or they might be careers or they might be support workers or they might work in Aldi or Tesco and I think it is important that we recognise those as well.

“Even just a mum, if a mum is at home and she is home schooling five other children, it is a lot. It is not about pigeonholing certain people it’s just those to be recognised to be doing extra in their communities I guess.”

The list is full of activities, celebrations and challenges to be completed by Mrs Hughes and her family, but also by Zoe’s old friends from primary school.

Mrs Hughes has also used the opportunity to confront some of her fears through completing the bucket list challenges.

One of her fears was being scared of heights and, to confront this, she decided to do a 200m zip wire, which she found ‘terrifying’.

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A challenge on the list which involved the whole community of Didcot was an accumulative weight loss challenge.

The concept was that for every pound someone lost they would donate a pound to the Meningitis Research Foundation.

The challenges range from wacky and expensive activities that Zoe would have wanted to do, to much more practical things such as Mrs Hughes learning to drive or cooking for friends.

She said: “Seeing the Northern Lights is something she wanted to do, so the extremes are really expensive and really out-there."

At the other end of the scale Mrs Hughes challenged herself to host a 'Come Dine With Me'-style dinner party modelled after the Channel 4 reality show.

She said: "Notoriously people that know me know that I cannot cook, so for me to host a Come Dine With Me is like reaching the top of Mount Everest."

Everything on the list aims to raise awareness of meningitis and raise money but also to remember and celebrate Zoe.

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Mrs Hughes said: “It was a way for us to support my family in a year that would be quite difficult.

“The way we do things in our family is to remember and to celebrate life, so this was just a way we could do that.

“The fact that we cannot do it now feels empty for us so by teaming up with Courtney in her kindness for key workers is just a way for us to feel like we are still doing something in her 40th year.

“It is nothing grand it is nothing expensive, it is just a token of appreciation, but that is what my sister was like as well, she was very kind and she wanted to work with children either as a teacher or a nursery nurse.”

She added: “It is hard to share something so personal with other people, but it is not meant to be a sob story. It is a celebration.”

Mrs Hughes remembers her sister as a happy child, she remembers her loving the colour pink, collecting Care Bears and Trolls and listening to Jason Donovan endlessly.

To help support the bucket list challenge send a crochet blue random act of kindness to a key worker by emailing Mrs Hughes at

Mrs Hughes has also set up a Just Giving web page for the Meningitis Research Foundation.