THE ambitious £1m fundraising target set six years ago to create a special care baby unit for premature tots born at Barnsley Hospital has been broken - after cricket legend Dickie Bird’s latest donation edged it over the finish line.

The Chronicle can reveal that the Tiny Hearts Appeal, set up in 2014, hit the milestone this week after Dickie - who has given £100,000 to the cause in total - gave another £15,000 to break the barrier.

The cash has enabled the creation of the new state-of-the-art neonatal unit for babies who need special care, as well as all of its life-saving equipment.

Dickie, 86, told the Chronicle: “The reason I have given £100,000 is simply because I don’t think it could go to a better cause. Barnsley is my home and the Tiny Hearts Appeal has been tremendously popular, resulting in a lasting legacy for the hospital.

“When I’ve seen little babies that are so poorly and going through operations and so much stress at a tender age, I’ve had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.

“It brings me so much pleasure to see the same babies growing up fit and well because of the wonderful work of our surgeons, doctors and nurses.

“People across Barnsley have been so generous but the culmination of all that hard work is a fantastic facility that’ll be used by generations to come.”

At the celebration event held on Tuesday, hospital bosses praised the hundreds of fundraisers who have completed sponsored events - ranging from long-distance cycle rides to fire walking - which resulted in parents of youngsters born prematurely backing the cause.

Scott and Janine Meyers are one of those couples who have completed all sorts of fundraising tasks in aid of the Tiny Hearts Appeal after their son, Thomas, who celebrated his fifth birthday this week, was born three months early weighing just 1lb 11oz.

Scott added: “Thomas was born on the older facility so when we heard about the Tiny Hearts Appeal we had to get involved as they give life-saving care to those who need it the most.

“When your baby is born prematurely it’s an absolute whirlwind as it happens suddenly when you’re least expecting it, so you’re dazed as parents and worried about your baby.

“However, the hospital’s staff were incredible and to see them hit their target makes me incredibly proud as so many people have got involved.

“Thomas is doing really well now and that’s down to them.”

The new neonatal unit is sited next to the hospital’s birthing centre and it has been designed so babies do not have to be exposed to different environments or temperature changes, reducing the likelihood of contracting illnesses.

Trevor Lake, chairman of Barnsley Hospital, said: “We have been amazed, humbled and thrilled by the response of local people from across Barnsley and beyond who have donated, fund-raised and volunteered since we launched this appeal back in 2014.

“We are hugely grateful for every single donation which has enabled us to open a new neonatal unit and purchase state of the art equipment and we cannot thank everyone enough.

“It’s important to mention Dickie Bird’s generosity as he’s been pivotal in this achievement. He’s backed us on every single occasion and it’s fitting that an icon of the town has enabled something so special to happen.”

The hospital’s charity development manager, Jane Mills, revealed plans to start a new fundraising appeal to help people with dementia.

She said: “Looking forward to the spring, we are working closely with our supporters and staff to develop a new appeal which will see us moving from tiny hearts to bigger hearts.

“We plan to transform our care of the elderly ward by providing a homely, calm and relaxing environment which supports all patients, particularly those with dementia.”