Congratulations and thanks are due to two inspiring fundraisers, Michelle Mulholland and her friend Gill Williamson, who received a British Citizen Award on Thursday 6th July for their services to volunteering and charitable giving.

The award-winning pair set up a fundraising group in memory of Michelle’s son, Chad, who sadly died in August 2008 after a long battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. They have raised a staggering £89,000 through their Hope Fund.

Throughout his illness, Chad, a student at Altrincham Grammar School for Boys (AGSB), in Cheshire, remained positive, managing to find the strength to not only take his GCSEs - gaining ten A*s – but also to organise a tea party to raise money for Willow, after we arranged for him and his family to enjoy a long weekend at Center Parcs in May 2008.

Gill, the Sixth Form Administrator at AGSB, helped Chad to organise his original tea party fundraiser. Since then, Gill has overseen ten tea party fundraisers, raising more than £12,000 for Willow.

We asked Gill what motivates her to continue the fundraising and also for her tips on keeping a long-running event fresh and new each year.

“Every year I set the Year 12 students a challenge to hold a fundraising tea party. We run them as projects, a bit like on ‘The Apprentice’, with a project manager, project brief and a bit of a plan! Every year has a theme – decided by the team. We try and get everything for free, by sending letters out to local businesses, staff, students, family and friends.  

All Staff and Sixth Form students are invited. The entry fee includes a starter cake and drink, then we try to get lots of money for our ‘premium cakes’ and we have ‘take out bags’ to encourage staff and students to buy more. 

We also auction cakes – with teams encouraged to bid as syndicates. Seeing a team of Maths teachers outbid a group of hungry students is a real treat!  Afterwards we sell off the remaining cakes and treats in the classrooms. So by 3pm the whole school is ‘buzzing’ with sugar! 

It’s a time when we can reflect and remember Chad, and remind ourselves why we are doing it. 

Over the years Chad’s sisters and my daughters have been involved in everything from baking, selling, promoting, and teaching the pupils how to make cakes. We love it when they help. After each event Michelle, our girls and I, sit down and we all have a cup of coffee and finally eat some cake! Then we count up the money. This was the part Chad loved best as a keen mathematician!

Top tips

Having a theme each year is my top tip for keeping the events fresh and successful. Over the years ours have included: The Posh Tea Party, with etiquette rules applied; 1960s, Love is all you need; 4th of July USA theme, 2012 Olympics; 2014 Football World Cup; Chad & the Chocolate Factory; US Presidential Bake Off; and Sith vs. Jedi. 

The best ones add a twist like a bake off or other fundraising activities that tie in to the theme, like a football match or a quiz. We always decorate the room and have been known to dress up too. The more effort you make, the more people are likely to want to get involved and spend their money.

Inspiring future fundraisers

I get a warm glow when I see how being involved helps develop skills and maturity in all the students taking part. It’s the first event that Y12 run by themselves and it helps them start to bond as a year group too. The annual tea party event is always an emotional one for Michelle and I as it was Chad’s event in 2008, which inspired our future fundraising. The current students in the school weren’t actually there when Chad was a pupil, so it’s been a lovely way of keeping his memory alive.  

If you’re unsure about arranging a fundraising event, whether it’s a tea party or something else, I would say go for it! Have an objective in mind, ours is simply: “To have fun, make people smile and raise loads of money”. 

Also don’t lose faith – I have had dark times when I thought that we weren’t going to get any ingredients or bakers and no one would turn up - keep smiling, keep it fun and it will all come together. Having a plan helps a lot, as does having brilliant students to help! Always get the team back together after the event to celebrate and discuss what went well and what could be done better next time.

Ask the Willow Community Team for their advice too – they’ve been so supportive over the years. I treasure the good luck card sent before each tea party and share it with the team. The banners, collecting tins, leaflets, balloons etc. all add to our theme and it’s great to be able to share with the team how the funds raised will help others like Chad and his family to create happy memories to last a lifetime.”

If Gill’s blog has left you feeling thirsty and you fancy arranging a tea party, summer is the perfect time! Check out our Take Time for Tea Campaign or get in touch with the Supporter Fundraising Team, to discuss your ideas.

Main image credit: British Citizen Awards

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