History of Sands New Zealand


Here is the story of how Sands first got established in New Zealand, in the words of the person who started it all, Rosemary Westley (formerly Willams) ...

'On February 18th 1986 my beautiful baby daughter Holly was stillborn. It was like nobody had ever had this happen to them before. I found that there was no support and no information on having a stillborn baby. Some of the practices were appalling such as the baby being given to me in a paper shawl, not unlike the paper towels that are found in public toilets. Photos weren't taken, advice wasn't given in those early initial days of even how to prepare the funeral. Emotions were raw and the topic was kept quiet.
After some weeks I had the strong urgency to do something about this. I didn't want anyone to go through what we had gone through. We were very lucky having a fantastic and caring Hospital Chaplin, Rev Eric Kearse. We spoke at great length and decided to have a meeting of those interested in forming a group. The response was great and in the April of 1986 we held the first meeting in Palmerston North. Twenty couples came along and the honesty and friendship and tears were welcomed, and from then on monthly meetings took place.
I still needed to do more. I wanted to write and have something that newly breaved parents could have to help them through those dark days, months and years to follow. I set about researching as much as I could. I came across a book by the famous actress Susan Hampshire, who wrote " A Maternal Instinct" after she had also experienced a stillbirth. I contacted her and gained a huge wealth of information.
After many months of research I was finally satisfied with my work and in 1988 I published the booklet " S.A.N.D.S: A caring guide for parents of stillborn babies and babies that die shortly after birth". Over 3000 copies were printed and they were sent all over New Zealand. That is now 20 years ago and I have been told that there are still some around. That was the first book on such a subject in New Zealand written for New Zealanders.
Since then I have had many enquiries on how to set up a group, permission to write more books and many groups have been formed to help. I feel so very proud that you have all been touched in some way in what I have done and I am so grateful that so many of you have continued to improve and extend the services to those in need. '



Indrea Alexander started work as the first (unpaid) national coordinator. Through her efforts and alongside Libby Gairdner Cooney from Sands Waikato the first SANDS conference was held. A national constitution was also developed and implemented.


The second national SANDS conference was held in Napier; the theme was 'All Our Babies'.


- the third national SANDS conference was held in Wellington; the theme was 'Hidden Treasures'.


The fourth national SANDS conference was held in Napier; the theme was 'Past, Present and Future Hope'.


The fifth national SANDS conference was held in Wellington; the theme was 'Grieving and Growing'. SANDS' first website was also launched at the conference, this initiative was spearheaded by Tiffiny Hodgson, the Chairperson of SANDS. 


SANDS NZ's first paid position was established through the Vodafone World of Difference award. The position was National Projects Coordinator and was held for 12 months by Vicki Culling. This position helped to redevelop SANDS nationally and reinstitute communication amongst the groups and contact people throughout the country. (The funding was for 12 months only so unfortunately at the end of 2006 we returned to having no paid worker/s). We also held our first national training weekend in Wellington in November - thanks to the generosity of the Tindall Foundation


From SANDS to Sands - we re-branded! A new logo, new colours and new support packs were introduced. A new pamphlet on the transporting of a deceased baby was also developed and launched. The sixth national Sands conference was held in Christchurch; the theme was 'Living, Loving, Remembering'.


Our website was re-designed to incorporate our new branding. The Ministry of Health printed 4000 Sands Support Packs which were distributed by Sands groups around the country. Our third annual national training weekend was held in Wellington on 7-9th November. Over 50 Sands supporters from around the country attended the training!


Sands introduced a new resource - the Certificate of Life. This is a certificate primarily for parents whose baby or babies die before 20 weeks gestation, but it is available for all parents. There is an A5 and A4 size certificate. Our seventh biennial conference was held in Auckland in early August. The theme was taken from our strap line 'A Little Life, Not a Little Loss'.


We held our fifth national training weekend in Wellington from 20-22nd August. Again, we had over 50 Sands members from around the country attending! We also gave out our inaugural Sands NZ Honorary Life Membership Awards.

Our logo was also slightly changed – to reflect our fully inclusiveness the wording around it was changed from ‘Stillbirth and Newborn Death Support’ to ‘Pregnancy, Baby and Infant Loss Support’



Sands New Zealand has now been providing support to families for 25 years.  The Ministry of Health has taken over the printing and distribution of our Sands Support Packs.  This ensures they are readily available for all of our groups are make it easier for any other health providers to access. Our eight biennial conference was held in Wanganui in November, with the theme ‘Lets Talk about it'.


We held our Sands NZ National Training in Auckland in August.


Our ninth biennial conference was hosted by Sands Waikato and held in Hamilton. The theme was ‘Changed Forever: Forever Changing’.


Our tenth biennial conference was hosted by Sands Wellington-Hutt Valley and held in Wellington. The theme was ‘Everyday Courage, Compassion and Connection’.  A new full board was elected and the website was updated to the current design to reflect the new fresh face of Sands New Zealand.

Sands NZ Honorary Life Members

In August 2010, Sands NZ instigated Honorary Life Membership. Through this award, we recognise the valuable contribution of individuals to Sands at both a local and national level. We also acknowledge their involvement in raising awareness of baby loss and supporting parents, families and whanau following the death of a baby.


2010 ~ Malia Fasi-Hill, Sands Canterbury
2010 ~ Shirley Rolfe, Sands Gisborne
2010 ~ Frank Rolfe, Sands Gisborne
2010 ~ Joan Curle, Sands Wellington/Hutt Valley
2012 ~ Vicki Culling, Sands Wellington/Hutt Valley
2015 ~ Janet Williams, Sands Waikato
2015 ~ Jackie Plimmer, Sands Canterbury
2015 ~ Karlena Kelliher, Sands Canterbury

A little life
not a little loss