In the early 1980’s I worked for MENCAP as part of the appeals team. We were all young things and our boss, Edward Howe, allowed us to create our own fundraising projects so long as we also organised the dull tin shaking street collection. He took charge of the glamorous Show Biz Car Club, his remake of the supportive celebrity group, Stars Organisation for the Spastics. A new girl, Jane, and I went to Somerset to visit one of our homes for the mentally handicapped to give us a grounding in the charity. Jane was desperate to work for MENCAP but, with no qualifications, had come in only as a secretary.
Nevertheless, she had very ambitious plans to involve some of her comedian contacts in fundraising concerts, which she thought would raise lots and lots of money. We were sceptical: ‘Be realistic’ we said. But first Jane had to organise the boring annual street collecting appeal. Fundraising must be fun she maintained - so her tin shakers were stilt walkers and clowns with red noses. Then she set about organising her celebrity events from scratch. Some were successful, some less so. All of them were full on, focused work.
A few years later (having moved on with my career) I turned on the television to see the comedian Lenny Henry sporting a red clown’s nose; then flash to a mentally handicapped teenager. The last time I had seen him was at the MENCAP home in Somerset I had visited with Jane. This time he was playing guitar with Elvis Costello. The TV screen filled with celebrities. Our Jane was Jane Tewson, a co-founder of Comic Relief, with its Red Nose Day. It has changed the concept of what fundraising can achieve. It has raised 1 billion pounds in its first 30 years.