The charity champion takes on on a new cause
On October 14, Suffolk magazine will support veteran fundraiser Gina Long at a charity ball to help some of the county’s families affected by disability and cancer. Dave Gooderham talked to Gina about her new charity, GeeWizz, and her life-long passion fo
GINA Long’s professional life is one of contrasts. With an address book that is the envy of Suffolk and beyond, and a dream to help the most needy families in her home county, Gina has successfully interwoven the two in a 40-year career as a charity campaigner, which last year saw her achievements recognised with an MBE. She has always felt blessed to have the continued support of family, friends, business leaders, dignitaries and more, but there’s a reason everything Gina touches turns golden for the national and local charities she supports. Ask anyone who knows her and the words ‘passionate’, ‘enthusiastic’, ‘dedicated’ and ‘driven’ come tumbling out. Now she has channelled that passion to help others through her own charitable trust, GeeWizz, in a bid to make more of a direct impact on the lives of disabled people and families affected by cancer. Explaining the origins of the charity, Gina says the guiding principle is transparency and trust. “I want people to believe in what I am trying to achieve and to actually see where the money raised goes – so far it’s a recipe that is showing great success, thanks to our generous supporters.” The charity might be less than a year old, but like her past successes, it is heading towards a hugely successful first birthday. Never happy having just one big project to organise, with weeks to go before the charity ball in The Hangar at Milsoms Kesgrave on October 14, Gina was in the middle of planning her next global Ultimate Charity Auction – www.ultimatecharityauction.com – a two-week online fundraiser supporting four national and local charities, which gives people the chance to bid on a vast array of money-can’t-buy prizes. This year’s auction – Saturday October 22 to Sunday November 6 – is expected to raise £1 million for the first time since this successful fundraising format was first started by Gina in 2012. The ball, organised in partnership with Suffolk Magazine and Paul Milsom, owner of Milsoms, sold out four months before the big event, and GeeWizz has already gained valuable support from William van Cutsem, who
“I have always believed very strongly in the positive difference charity can make on individuals, families and communities. That is what drives me on.”
along with legendary former Ipswich Town and England defender Terry Butcher are the charity’s ambassadors.
The event has attracted other high-profile names, with support from former England cricketer and broadcaster Graeme Swann, Suffolk operatic star Laura Wright, who will be performing, and popular television presenter Chris Hollins, acting as MC for the evening. He will be joined by Graeme Swann later in the evening.
“We couldn’t have asked for more support for GeeWizz’s first big fundraising event,” said Gina. “Everyone is working so hard to ensure it is a great success, and to raise as much money as possible to support our work helping disabled people and families affected by cancer.”
A CAREER HELPING OTHERS
Gina’s career reads like a who’s who of charities. She was one of the founding members of the Suffolk Breakthrough Breast Cancer group, which announced last year that it had raised £1 million to help fund research into the disease, while the Ultimate Charity Auction, now in its fifth year, has supported the likes of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, Breast Care Now, East Anglia’s Children’s Hospice and Ipswich Hospital. This year, the auction will support community football projects run by In The Game, the League Managers Association charity, Sarcoma UK, GeeWizz and the My WiSH Charity, supporting Gina’s local hospital, the West Suffolk.
Gina, and her husband, Andrew, created the Classic Sports Cars by the Lake, held annually at their farm to raise money for St Nicholas Hospice Care. She was also part of the Suffolk fundraising committee of the Prince’s Trust, helping to raise more than £400,000, and was chairman of EACH’s special events committee, covering Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and North Essex. She is patron of the Bury St Edmunds Womens Aid Centre, and the Ipswich and Suffolk Business Club, as well as the first ambassador of West Suffolk Hospital and its My WiSH Charity.
Gina started fundraising at the age of 13, organising a 24-hour swimathon in Ipswich and raising £1,300 for children with special needs.
“I have always believed very strongly in the positive difference charity can make on individuals, families and communities. That is what drives me on.” She has two children, Samuel and Alexandra, and five stepchildren, James, Charles, Georgina, Thomas and Olivia.
“Over the many years doing what I love, I have finally worked out the right work/life balance. My family life will always come first. I feel very blessed to have been given such wonderful opportunities, to work with some amazing people and to have such a supportive family around me.
“I live by the Ghandi quote, Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” She established GeeWizz because she wanted to know exactly where every penny of the money she raised was going.
“It is not just about the money. I work proactively with families who may have a sick child and don’t know where to turn to. Their lives could be dramatically improved by having an upgraded or electric wheelchair, rather than a manual one – something that may not get funded elsewhere.
“The greatest gift I have been given over the last 10 months with GeeWizz is to see the happiness that has come from being able to help individuals and families.”
Dane Jackson says GeeWizz has made a “massive” difference to his quality of life. An MS sufferer, Dane was living in a flat with no flooring, struggling to afford simple things that eased his condition. There was a lot of dust and he was worried about falling over.
But that all changed after GeeWizz helped to improve his standard of living, in and out of home, by working closely with other organisations.
“When GeeWizz arranged for me to have some flooring put down, it was absolutely fantastic. It has made such a difference to my home life.” GeeWizz also worked with Nicky Mayhew and Ipswich Borough Council to offer a swimming pass at Crown Pools, and with Sally Webb and the team at Ipswich Town Football Club, who supplied matchday tickets.
“GeeWizz has really improved my quality of life and given me something to look forward to.”
“GeeWizz has really improved my quality of life and given me something to look forward to”
THE CELEBRITY SUPPORTERS
When Gina Long decided she wanted to sprinkle some celebrity stardust on her GeeWizz charity’s first big fundraising evening, she knew just who to ask.
Three phone calls later and she had secured some big names – one of England’s all-time greatest bowlers, one of the Royal Family’s favourite singers, and a BBC presenter and former winner of Strictly Come Dancing – who all agreed to support and attend the GeeWizz charity ball on Saturday October 14 at The Hangar at Milsoms Kesgrave Hall.
BBC presenter Chris Hollins will be MC for the evening, while songstress Laura Wright will perform alongside Soul Beat, one of the country’s most engaging eight-piece show bands.
Chris said: “I’ve known Gina for a while, and her infectious enthusiasm and desire to do good means I am honoured to be the host of the first GeeWizz charity ball.”
Cricketer Graeme Swann said: “I’m looking forward to attending the charity ball and supporting Gina and GeeWizz to raise as much money as possible for some very worthwhile causes.”
Gina said: “To have Chris, Laura and Graeme, on board is a terrific coup for GeeWizz. They will add a touch of glamour to what is already going to be a fabulous evening. I cannot thank them enough. To have their generous time and support adds to the magnificence of the occasion.”
Throughout her 40 years as a voluntary fundraiser, Gina has understood the importance
of making charity events as high profile as possible, to ensure worthwhile causes get the most amount of funds and awareness.
Her four global online auctions have raised more than £875,000 and she believes a big part of that success has been the ability to tap into the great and good from the worlds of sport, celebrity and lifestyle, helping to raise funds for a number of charities, one of which was the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, for which she has raised over £350,000.
Her close links with Ipswich Town will also see the club represented on the evening by some of its most famous names. Former player and manager George Burley will be teaming up with ex-team mates Alan Brazil and Terry Butcher, who has also agreed to be the first ambassador of GeeWizz.
Terry said: “I have known and worked closely with Gina Long for many years and I didn’t have to think twice about supporting this wonderful and worthwhile charity supporting youngsters and families in Suffolk.”
THE DONORS AND SPONSORS PAUL MILSOM, MILSOM HOTELS
A long-time supporter of Gina’s charity work, Paul is providing the stunning venue for the GeeWizz charity ball, The Hangar at Milsoms Kesgrave Hall. He is also providing a top auction prize of a magnificent dinner and wines for 20 guests in Mr G’s private dining room at Milsoms in Dedham.
“To have Chris, Laura and Graeme, on board is a terrific coup for GeeWizz. They will add a touch of glamour to what is already going to be a fabulous evening. I cannot thank them enough. To have their generous time and support adds to the magnificence of the occasion.”
Guy Nichols, Tippers R Us is sponsoring the entertainment for the evening, while a ‘flowing’ champagne reception has been donated by Adnams, and all beer and the fine wines for the evening will be generously provided by Greene King.
The ball will also be supported by leading events management company, Parker Communications, whose owner Mick Parker said: “As a company, we pride ourselves on supporting local and national charities and we are delighted to be working with the GeeWizz charitable foundation and playing our part in helping this fantastic event, which will support people in our community.”
The GeeWizz charity ball, which is supported by media partner EADT Suffolk Magazine, will also include a lavish auction, with star prizes from internationally renowned sculptor Shaun Brosnan, and leading abstract impressionist artist Ben Mosley, whose work can be found in private collections throughout the world. Both are previous supporters of Gina’s fundraising.
Ben has been commissioned by the London 2012 Olympics and Wembley Stadium to produce original and bespoke canvases for some of the most iconic sporting names including Sir Bobby Robson, Mo Farah and Wayne Rooney. For the GeeWizz charity ball auction, he has painted a one-off exclusive image of David Bowie and Mohammed Ali. Shaun will provide a golden ticket prize, a bespoke sculpture worth an estimated £10,000.
Ipswich-based James Rook Sanctuary Personnel have donated 10 prizes for the auction in support of courageous Suffolk teenager Kim Sale, who had to have her leg amputated to halt the growth of a Ewings Sarcoma cancerous tumour. They have joined forces with the local community to fundraise for a new prosthetic limb for sports mad Kim.
Auctioneer Edward Crichton will be offering guests an array of spectacular auction prizes, which include a chance to see any Manchester United game with the best hospitality at Old Trafford, a TalkSport experience, courtesy of award winning breakfast show host Alan Brazil, and a very unique ‘hostile environment’ awareness training – ideal for corporates and team-building.
Other prizes have been donated by international photographer Tom Murray, Maison Bleue owner Pascal Canevet, who is offering a fine dining experience for eight people at home. Go Ape have created a bespoke team-building package, while there is also a 200-bird shoot day courtesy of Hall Farm, near Bury St Edmunds, and a chance to have your business profiled in the pages of the East Anglian Daily Times and Suffolk Magazine.
With such a glittering array of auction items, Gina, who also praised the support of her team, Maddie Tasker, Laura Bloomfield and Kirsty Downes, said: “I cannot express how grateful I am to everyone who is supporting the GeeWizz charity ball. It will herald almost a year since the charity was launched and I cannot think of a more perfect way to celebrate that milestone than by raising vital funds for the children, families and young adults we proudly support. I send the biggest heartfelt thank you to you all.”
The Fulcher brothers, helped by Gina’s charity work
The Sir Bobby charity ball, initiated by Gina
OHIW England’s Graeme Swann is supporting GeeWizz. At Sir Bobby’s Breakthrough Auction and Ball at the Apex in Bury St Edmunds Andrew and Gina Long with Chris Hollins and his father John Hollins. Chris will be MC at this year’s ball.
EHORZ Singer Laura Wright will be performing at the ball.