On 11th March 1979 I was one of a group of people who got together to form a ‘Young Friends’ fundraising group for the Cheltenham branch of the Samaritans. The average age of the group was just 19 and their main rule for fundraising was that it must be fun – the first event they organised was a disco. Today (42 years later) that group is still actively raising funds – and still having fun (although they no longer call themselves the ‘Young’ friends!).
So what have we been doing for 42 years? When we first formed we were just a support group for the main group of ‘Friends’ and as such had no pressure on us to come up with great amounts of cash – whatever we could raise was a welcome bonus. As such we tended to concentrate on events that would raise awareness of the Samaritans to a younger group of people and hopefully raise some funds at the same time. To this end we organised Disco’s, skittles matches, stalls at summer events and a series of increasingly successful bicycle treasure hunts. We also assisted the ‘Friends’ at their annual Christmas Fayre’s and Flag days.
In 1983 the senior Friends group folded and it was left to the ‘Young Friends’ to provide the much needed additional funding for the Cheltenham Branch. We took over the organisation of the traditional annual events and started adding some new ideas of our own. We started to run our first Pop Quiz’s and also made our initial foray into mass outdoor barbeque catering at the ‘Madsummers Day’ and ‘Madsummers Daze’ events in Pittville Park. These two types of event were to provide the mainstay of much of our fundraising over the next 20 years!
In 1985 we started a 250 club (which is still running today - click the link! ) but with our fundraising activities starting to look decidedly more on the ‘serious’ side, we helped to form another group of Friends at the branch to allow us to get back to concentrating on the more ‘fun’ aspects of ‘FUNdraising’.
1987 saw the quite remarkable staging of a ‘one-night only’ pantomime called ‘SAMDERELLA’ which starred members of the committee and was based on our various fundraising activities. This was a massive hit and good fun to produce and be warned, dodgy videos of the event are still in circulation and can probably be "sniffed" out if you ask past Chairman Nick Lawrence!
1988 and 1989 witnessed the staging of the largest fundraising/publicity events that we have ever attempted (until now) with two ‘It’s a Knockout’ type events staged at the Prince of Wales stadium. These raised over £5,000 between them, and provided the Samaritans with some very valuable publicity.
Throughout the nineties, we consolidated our best fundraising ideas and improved them to maximise our fundraising capability. Our Pop (and other) quizzes regularly attracted over 300 competitors at a time and we have evolved into the slickest mass barbeque experts due to a run of ten years at the annual ‘Picnic in the Park’ event. We have published numerous postal quizzes, organised many treasure hunts (on bike, foot and in car), craft stalls, Boggit hunts (don’t ask!) and we also did our bit for the environment with a successful paper and aluminium can recycling scheme.
2003 saw the 40th anniversary of the Cheltenham branch of the Samaritans and the 50th anniversary of the Samaritan movement. To mark these occasions, we organised our largest fundraising event ever - Dragons on the Lake! and thanks to some generous sponsorship we raised over £10,000. In 2004 we celebrated our own 25th anniversary which was marked by a re-run of Dragons on the Lake, with 20 teams and over 9000 spectators we raised over £8,000. The following year saw the third and final Dragon Boats event which though successful was proving to be harder and harder to organise each year (mainly due our own perfectionism!).
To replace this annual event we decided in 2006 to try our hand at organising something a bit closer to our hearts and the 'Cheltenham Beer Festival' was born. We had brilliant weather at the start of September, and over 400 people enjoyed a selection of 27 different beers and ciders mainly from the local area, and we made over £7,000. We repeated the festival in July 2007 and managed to find the only dry and sunny weekend in a very wet summer! - We expanded to our limit with over 500 people trying out 30 beers. once again we made over £7,000. After being forced to cancel twice due to the pandemic, on Saturday 11 June 2022 we will be running our 15th Cheltenham Beer Festival, now in a regular June slot, with over 650 tickets to sell.
Over the 42 years of our existence there have been numerous people involved with the Young Friends with a core group of people becoming more of a close-knit social group who happen to do fundraising, rather that a fundraising group who occasionally meet each other socially. We think that the main reason for this is that we have always approached fundraising as something that can be done successfully whilst still having a good time. This maxim seems to have worked, as in this time the group have directly raised over £130,000 for the branch as well as contributing to many other fund-raising and publicity initiatives.
It has been my privilege to be a part of this group for the past 42 years and it has been an honour to help to raise funds for the Cheltenham Samaritans, a group who freely give their own time and efforts to provide a much needed service for the people of Cheltenham and the surrounding area. Looking back on the sheer magnitude of events that this group has organised I am always amazed at what we have achieved and also immensely proud to have been involved.
Friends of Cheltenham Samaritans