How we put the ‘fun’ in fundraising as a family

Poppy Hocken, a NASS trustee, along with her family, Chris, Alex, Matt, Beth and Ellie, have been involved with fundraising for NASS over a number of years achieving a grand total of £7,945.

Poppy loves to fundraise; having taken on many challenges over the last 20 years for charities close to her heart, she has raised an incredible £35,000! She shares her family’s favourite challenges to take on, top tips and how you can still fundraise – even with the smallest of ideas.

My symptoms started when I was about 18. It took 16 years before I was given the diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis. I was 34 and living with a painful condition, so when I was told there was very little they could do for me, I felt unbelievably low and frightened! Another 10 years passed before I was referred to the Rheumatology team in Bath where I finally started to receive the help and appropriate treatment that was so needed. At the same time, I was directed to NASS and it transformed my life. Three of my four children have the condition and we decided as a family to give something back to NASS. My husband Chris initially supported us but finally decided to be brave and join us.

We’re all good swimmers, who enjoy being in the water, so we decided to start with an open-water challenge. We chose to swim 1 mile in the Serpentine. 7 years later we have managed three swim challenges as a family. This year, I managed a personal achievement by walking the full length of Hadrian’s wall -104 miles for ‘Walk your AS off’. This was much more challenging, with long days of walking leaving me very uncomfortable. As the days wore on my fitness increased and with stretching at the end of each day, I made it. I made sure I had the right equipment, good well-worn boots, walking poles for stability and only a small rucksack. We had arranged for a company to transfer our larger bags every day to reduce the load and this all helped to make the challenge achievable.

I have always loved swimming, it’s something I can manage without too much discomfort. However, I had never attempted an open water swim, and I wanted to push myself outside my comfort zone for that personal achievement, as well as raising funds. It helped us all feel we had control over our axial SpA, rather than the other way round.

Our friends and family have always provided strong support, but using a Just Giving page through social media allowed us to reach friends who may not hear about what we get up to. With the whole family getting involved it boosted our following, therefore reaching a wider audience and increasing the giving.

Taking on challenges together as a family made it much more fun and it meant we were able to support each other. The sense of achievement was incredible; it helped improve our pain and the regular exercise did wonders for our mental health. Our second swim was extremely poignant and emotional because my eldest boy, Alex, had tragically passed away. The unbearable pain of losing one of your children goes beyond words and would take another blog to even begin to articulate it. Our second swim was in honour of our beloved Alex. We split the funds between NASS and CALM.

Fundraising is vitally important but with each big challenge, I realised there had to be a reasonable gap between them so as not to burn out peoples’ giving capacity (and my own energy). However, I found that there are many other less demanding ways to support NASS. Every year I buy their Christmas cards, raffle tickets, renew my membership and occasionally make a donation when I can. No matter how small, it all helps if enough people contribute.

If you are thinking of taking on a challenge over the next year for NASS, here are my top fundraising tips:

  • Take on a challenge you will enjoy but will give you a sense of achievement. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone will be worth it.
  • Always make sure you have the right equipment to help you achieve your goal and keep you safe, this is vital when taking on a challenge. Remember tip one, it’s meant to be fun.
  • Start training early and take it a step at a time. I always say: One small step for mankind but one big step for axial SpA!
  • NEVER underestimate the small ways to fundraise (every step counts), from cake sales to Christmas cards, it all helps. Not everyone wants to take on the big challenges, but if you do, it’s always easier and much more fun done with friends and family.