When you think of Brain Tumour Research, you think of a clinical white research centre with tall men with white coats on. So pulling up to a wonderfully kept farm in the middle of Buckingham what slightly outside what I had envisaged.
As I drove down the long winding drive towards the proudly standing farmhouse I was unsure of how big or small this charity was. My first impressions that they were a small, like the string of many little charities set up on the back of losing a loved one, not that I have anything against that (I don't mean to come across as negative) but simply understanding of their founding and size.
As I walked through the main door of the business centre I was instantly hit with a flurry of activity. March is Brain Tumour awareness month and I had arrived in the middle of it; like Christmas for retail, Brain Tumour Awareness month is their busiest time.
Within 5 minutes of walking through the door I was offered a cup of tea and put straight to work. Wear a Hat Day is Brain Tumour Research's headline campaign to raise both money and awareness for the charity and their cause. They had used their incredible expertise in their small team to run a series of adverts across the London Underground for a wide range of products that they stock. I don't think they had anticipated the impact that this years campaign, and as a result, were massively oversubscribed. With orders coming out of their ears the exciting yet daunting task of packing all the merchandise led before us.
From badges and balloons to foam hats and colouring packs this charity has nailed a full and successful merchandise offer, mainly due to the fact that their incredible Chief Exec Sue is a former retail director and buyer. Coming from that background myself I instantly saw how tight and attractive the offer was; perfectly branded and intricately thought out with every detail to ensure maximum impact. But there was a mammoth task that needed urgent attention, packing and shipping just shy of 1200 orders. I spent all of my day and the day after up until 9pm at night packing, labelling and organising the wealth of product into each box ready to be sent off to the fundraiser.
What is interesting is that Sue has used her knowledge to offer the merchandise on a sale or return basis. For those of you who don't know what SOR is, the customer can order product free of charge and only buy what they sell. The rest of the unsold product then gets sent back to the supplier (in this case the charity). This method can be risky, but if you want to get product out there it's a great way to do it. There are no upfront costs for the person wanting to raise money, but as they have stock they somehow feel obliged to try and sell as much as they can.
After being offered a lovely plate of hot steaming chilli con carne, which I couldn't refuse I made my way back through the winding country roads to my hotel.
The sun was shining and the day looked wonderful, I couldn't really complain about being on a farm in this weather. Tuesday held exactly the activities as the day before, packing and shipping parcels trying to wade through the mud of orders that kept coming in thick and fast.
I did mange to get some rest bite from packing to sit down with Sue to talk about why she started the charity and how she had managed to get it to such an impressive operation. Like me most of you probably haven't the foggiest about the intricate details of Brain Tumours. We all know they are life limiting and pretty horrific but that was the extent of my knowledge. 16,000 people a year are diagnosed with Brain Tumours. The majority of people who die from them are under 40 years old and apparently it kills more people under this age than any other cancer out there. Want to know something scary? Just 1% of all cancer research spending in the UK is spent on Brain Tumour Research, 1%!?
When you go through this journey that I am on you become slightly a-tuned to the real issues in the sector. What's quite clear is the success of 'sexy' charities. Now I don't mean 'sexually appealing' but to use the word loosely in that it's appealing the mass public. Breast Cancer the Testicular Cancer is popular right now and because of all the amount of publicity and celebrity backing they have been done pretty well. But because Brain Tumour research isn't that appealing, they find it hard to sell. Getting buy in from the general public who have no connection to brain tumours is hard, but to be honest a challenge that most charities face.
Sue Farrington Smith (Chief Exec) is an incredibly inspirational woman. With her astute commercial head and compassionate streak, she has taken the small charity (set up after losing her niece at just 8 years old to a fatal brain tumour) to almost £2million in just under 10 years. Sitting in her wonderful lounge overlooking the farm with a cup of tea and a note pad in hand, she passionately and emotionally described her inspired journey. Ali was a normal little 8-year-old girl but one summers day after a slight turn, her mother knew that something was wrong. After months of tests and referrals finally an optician picked up there was something not quite right and told her to get an MRI. Within days she had been diagnosed with a fatal brain tumour and the nightmare started. The nemesis inferno of a rollercoaster began and like most with the fatal cancer, survival and life expectancy is pretty much non-existent. In jut 9 short months Ali had gone from being a spirited little girl to sadly passing away. Sue recalled that her sister, normally the matron and organiser of the family sat starting into space in the same spot I was sitting in at Sue's farmhouse. With such a rapid degenerate condition It must be almost mind boggling to come to terms with. But Sue was determined to make a difference and within a week Ali's wish was formed, raising money for Brain Tumour awareness. Within the first month £10,000 had been raised and a year £108,000 was sitting in the charities bank account. The charity is now at the Million and a half mark and year on year has continued to grow in strength. Impressive strategic partnerships have been formed, clear defined aims and objectives have been set the charity has become a undeniable force in the Brain Tumour arena.
On my final day I ended up meeting a wonderful lady called Lorraine. Lorraine's granddaughter is 19 and has a brain tumour. She was diagnosed at 12 years old and the 7 year battle began. She has since had 5 major brain operations and is still fighting her corner today. Lorraine felt that she couldn't just sit by and do nothing; she wanted to help. She contacted Brain Tumour Research 2 years ago to help fundraise to ensure that grandmothers, like herself, didn't have to go through what she had. After walking through the doors one sunny summers day to collect her fundraising merchandise she asked if she could help in any other way. Since that day Lorraine volunteers at BTR 2 days a week, helping with whatever admin tasks need doing. Without her help and support, the charity would be snowed under with orders that wouldn't get fulfilled.
When you go to a charity, such as Brain Tumour Research, who have a clear aim, you can't help but sit back and admire what they have managed to achieve. As I write this, my admiration for their determination and success is pretty overwhelming. Many great lessons can be learned from this seemingly small charity, lessons which I will happily take and spread as my year progresses.