Former England and Manchester United footballer Gary Neville was in his hometown on Saturday morning to praise an "absolutely vital" cause.

Bury Cancer Support Centre is celebrating 20 years since it opened, after launching in April 2003.

The facility is a drop-in centre for cancer patients or family and friends who may have been affected by the disease.

The Bury and Bolton Road site is marking the milestone with the aim of raising £20,000 over the next 12 months, using the number 20 as its theme.

On Saturday, it kicked off the celebrations, with football pundit Gary making a special appearance at an event.

Gary’s wife, Emma Hadfield, is a counsellor at the centre, which provides a range of services for people living with cancer.

Bury Times: Bury Cancer Support Centre have been operating for 20 yearsBury Cancer Support Centre have been operating for 20 years (Image: Newsquest)

Gary said: “It’s absolutely vital, particularly in these challenging times where our health service is very stressed.

“They deal with a lot of referrals here, from the NHS and from Macmillan- people who have cancer but people who are impacted by cancer, the recovery, dealing with it from a family perspective.

“This organisation has been delivering this service now for 20 years without any funding from central or local government, which is unbelievable really, and they continue to fight every single day to provide the care that’s much needed to people who come here.”

Never shy to raise political issues, Gary also called into question the level of support for the national health system to help cancer patients. 

He said: “For me with cancer, the question is, is the NHS fit for purpose? Not the staff- who are brilliant- but do they have the facilities that are required?

Bury Times: Gary praised the work that NHS and healthcare professionals doGary praised the work that NHS and healthcare professionals do (Image: Newsquest)

“We have to make sure it’s being funded properly and that the population in the country have access to deal with these illnesses that are going to come up in their lives.

“Is the funding there to support our great NHS doctors and nurses and do they have the facilities to be able to do their jobs properly?

“This centre launching directly helps people impacted by cancer whether directly, by suffering from it, or indirectly, for people who have family members who suffer from it.”

Gary cut the ribbon at the event with co-founder of Bury Cancer Support Centre, Lynne Marland.

On being asked if she could have imagined the centre coming this far, Lynne said: “Absolutely not. Really this isn’t down to me, this is down to an amazing team of volunteers and supporters.

Bury Times: The centre are trying to raise £20,000 for their 20th yearThe centre are trying to raise £20,000 for their 20th year (Image: Newsquest)

“I was the co-founder alongside Edwina Hodkinson, who is now a herbalist in Bury.

"We had worked together, both having been lifelong nurses, and we were working in cancer care and saw how medical care comes first, but felt there were gaps we could fill.

“When people were newly diagnosed or when someone walks out of hospital, they didn’t know what to do or where to go. And at the end of treatments, people can feel alone.

“We thought we could offer psychological support. We set up in April 2003 in a very small way in a church hall, and soon there was enough demand that we outgrew it.”

She added: “We’re completely self-funded, we rely on donations.”

To donate to the centre;s 20-year celebrations, visit: