I keep fundraising because people keep asking me to!

Tue 07 March 2023

Louise Newman

Louise, from Gourock in Scotland, was diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS at 48. Over many years of fundraising for us, she’s raised nearly £30,000. Find out how it all started and why she keeps going.

Back in 2011, I’d started feeling really dizzy and was waiting to see a neurologist. Then, while cycling in Majorca with my husband, I managed to go over the handlebars and my life changed. I broke my shoulder in four places, and had blood clots and radial nerve damage, resulting in a loss of hand function.

I had operations over there and then more back in Scotland. Then my vision problems started and they started doing different tests. I don’t know how many consultants I saw who told me I had MS. But the MS consultant finally confirmed the diagnosis when I had an MRI scan which showed some particular changes.

Making changes

I was a Business Studies teacher in a local academy. I went down to three days a week because I couldn’t cope with working full-time. Then they decided to merge some of the secondary schools together. I thought moving to a brand new school would be good, but it was a complete disaster for me. It was a busy, busy place and I didn’t fit in. Everything just got on top of me.

So, after teaching for over 30 years, I decided to leave. I wasn’t happy and I’d never not been happy in teaching. I’d always loved it. I was very lucky that the union rep helped me to get a full pension, but it was a sad way to go. Although it did lead to my first fundraiser…

Finding positives

I didn’t want any leaving presents - I wanted any money to go towards MS charities instead. I’m a regular swimmer at the local outdoor pool. So I decided to host a swim session instead of having a party. We had drinks and burgers and there was a raffle and people donated. My old colleagues came and a lot of the kids I’d taught over the years.

It was a lovely event and everybody said “Oh, you have to do this again next year!”. So I did. And I have done every year since, except in the first year of the pandemic. I only want people to pay what they can afford and usually just suggest a fiver. But some put in more like £20. And then there’s the raffle. It all adds up.

We used to use the whole pool for a couple of hours after it had shut. But since the pandemic we’ve only been able to use a couple of lanes while it’s open. We end up taking over anyway. The other swimmers see the food and the fun (like daft float races and jumping off diving boards) and want to join in, which makes more money.

For years, they let me use the pool for free. But then a new manager wanted to charge. The local press got hold of it and my optician and a local chemist offered to pay. But they haven’t tried to charge me since, so we’ll see!

What else?

The other annual fundraiser I’m involved with is a cycling road race called the Georgetown Cup. Teams of riders come from all over Scotland and pay to compete. I organise extra fundraising activities – a raffle and a stall to sell sweets and cakes. The whole thing usually raises around £2,500 to £3,000. The money gets split between three charities, including the MS Society. It’s very full on, but it’s a good day. And, luckily, we’ve always had good weather.

Read more about the Georgetown Cup on the Cycling Time Trials website

Because I used to teach their kids, the owners of a local venue have let me run a couple of craft fairs there. That was a lot of work, but well worth it.

I’ve also organised several events at local supermarkets with volunteers (including ex-pupils of mine) on a shift rota. That saw us offering to pack shopping in return for a donation. A day of that can sometimes raise £1,000!

On a smaller scale, a relative in Ayrshire creates beautiful little Christmas trees out of the lids from plastic milk bottles. I then sell them at the swimming pool. I’ve also held some Cake Breaks at my house. A lot of retired teachers have come, including some who used to teach me! Catching up with them while raising money (and eating cake) has been really nice.

Connecting through fundraising

Fundraising events advertised in the local paper have proved a great way to connect with newly diagnosed people in the area. And, if I can, I’ll support them, especially with claiming benefits. I went through a nightmare trying to get onto Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which was around before PIP, myself.

Read more about DLA and PIP

A guy came to my house to help me with the forms and he was terrible. Just sitting there yawning. He filled the form out really badly, in my opinion. I didn’t get awarded DLA and had to go to an appeal hearing, which was a horrible and upsetting experience.

I don’t want anybody to go through what I went through. A lot of people with MS seem to think they can’t get PIP and that’s that. Because there are things they can still do, they don’t think they qualify. But I explain how they need to describe their mobility on a bad day and encourage them to make a claim.

I connect them with a pal of mine at an advice charity so I don’t need to go into their private finances. She used to work for the Department of Work and Pensions, so she knows about benefits from the other side.

Helping people is the right thing to do. I know how bad I felt when I was diagnosed. I felt as though I was the first person in my area with MS. It’s good to reach out if you can.

Find local support in your area

Keeping going

I keep doing fundraising events because people keep asking me to! The outdoor pool opens in May and the first thing people ask me is when the swim event is going to be. Every year I think I can’t ask local businesses for more raffle prizes – especially during tough times. But I do, and I get them. I like to think I’m not pushy, but just kind of nicely annoying!

You feel good trying to help

I think I’ve always just wanted to help people. Even when I was teaching I used to have kids at my house after school for extra support. You feel good trying to help, even in a small way. The fundraising I’ve done has also been a great way to meet other people affected by MS, and to share knowledge and experiences.