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Art for Cure: two women, some great artists and an amazing fundraising success

PUBLISHED: 12:35 22 September 2015 | UPDATED: 12:35 22 September 2015

Belinda Gray (L) and Sally Ball founders of Art for Cure have had to move their sales to Glemham Hall.

Belinda Gray (L) and Sally Ball founders of Art for Cure have had to move their sales to Glemham Hall.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, so who better to speak to than the women who have turned a harrowing experience into something positive and inspiring. Lucy Etherington did just that

Belinda Gray (L) and Sally Ball founders of Art for Cure have had to move their sales to Glemham Hall.Belinda Gray (L) and Sally Ball founders of Art for Cure have had to move their sales to Glemham Hall.

When I meet the two women behind Art For Cure, I am struck by how vivacious and glowingly healthy they are. Amazing when you consider what both have been through in the past three years.

Aged just 47 and with no history of illness, Belinda Gray was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. After what she described as “a horrible year of treatments”, she came out the other side “exhausted and relieved an determined to raise funds for research into breast cancer”.

A great art lover and collector, she set up what she believed would be a small fundraising art show in her house and garden (spoiler alert: it was an astonishing success). She roped in her great friend Sally Ball, former PR at The Dorchester Hotel, to help. But in a shocking turn of events, within months of setting up the first Art For Cure, Sally was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“We’d just started selecting artists when I was diagnosed,” says Sally. “I had to drop out and have surgery and chemo. Belinda was brilliant because she’d been through it and was so inspiring, especially for my children. At least they could see a positive outcome. But also because she used to be a nurse, she was able to explain what was going on.”

Suffolk Breakthrough Breast Cancer celebrates raising £1,000,000. L-R: Bonk Tasker, Laura Hudson, Sue Smith, Bury Mayor Patrick Chung, Gina Long and Penny White.Suffolk Breakthrough Breast Cancer celebrates raising £1,000,000. L-R: Bonk Tasker, Laura Hudson, Sue Smith, Bury Mayor Patrick Chung, Gina Long and Penny White.

Indeed Belinda formerly worked in palliative AIDS care, which made her, she said, even more determined to survive.

“It’s hard to believe that at the last Art for Cure event I had no hair and was wearing a turban,” Sally recalls. “You just get on with it and cope with the tough parts, but it made us even more determined.” Art for Cure sold £200,000 worth of art and sculpture in three days, raising over £100,000 for Breakthrough for Breast Cancer (now Breast Cancer Now) – the largest amount raised by a privately run event in 2014.

Its success was overwhelming, both in the numbers that flocked to Belinda’s house outside Woodbridge, but also emotionally.

“Lots of people who came had a close friend or someone in their family who had breast cancer,” says Sally. “We had people buying sculptures and paintings in remembrance of people they loved. It was a very emotional event, yet we were supported by so many people who were caring and so helpful as our brilliant volunteers.”

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“We didn’t really publicise it,” says Belinda, who put her furniture in storage for the weekend, then had to redecorate. “Yet it drew over 2,000 people, with an amazing private view party on the opening night, which was completely over-subscribed.” The 2016 Art for Cure will be held in the stunning rooms and formal gardens of Glemham Hall, allowing for more guests, artists and events.

The artists have already been selected and are now listed on the website. They range from local legends such as Maggi Hambling to new talent, such as Sarah Muir Poland.

“People are buying a piece of artwork they love, but also know that a significant amount of their money will help women and men in East Anglia affected by breast cancer,” says Sally. As well as a feast of art and sculpture, there will be afternoon teas, lunches by celebrated chef Peter Harrison, live classical music and jazz, and lots of activities for children. They’re planning to get celebrities to paint a canvas for a blind auction. “There’s a race to get to Angelina Jolie,” Belinda says, grinning.

If you’re not an artist but still want to get involved you can volunteer. If you’re a local business, you can sponsor an artist’s board for a small fee. If you can’t wait until next April, there’s a Christmas event at Sally’s Saxmundham home with wreath making by Libby Butler and lunch courtesy of the Natural Pantry. You can also buy packs of 10 chic Christmas cards designed by eight of the artists taking part in Art For Cure 2016.

Million pound babes

It started off as a group of friends hoping to help others, after one of their own was diagnosed with breast cancer. But as Ollie Hatcher, Linda Grave, Helen Cook, Bonk Tasker, Sally Balch and I embarked on fundraising to fight breast cancer, little did we know the impact we would make, writes Gina Long

It began in October 1999. Two years later some tenacious charity work saw the birth of the Suffolk Breakthrough Breast Cancer Group.

Fast forward 16 years, and countless charity cycles, walks, auctions, cake sales, balls and online auctions, the voluntarily group has now raised £1 million.

Little surprise that this close-knit group of friends, and others who have played such an integral role in the group’s success, use the achievement to pay tribute to one of the founder members. Sally Balch was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 1998 and inspired the group and thousands of Suffolk people to raise money to help fund research into the disease before eventually losing her battle in October 2004.

Sally continues to inspire us and our many supporters who have helped make a difference to the work of the scientists searching for a cure for this wretched disease that has taken too many lives.

The ladies driving the fantastic fundraising fight were joined by scores of supporters whose lives had also been affected by breast cancer. Usually dressed in bright pink, young and old, men and women, took part in and organised events throughout the county. Walk on the Westside, organised by Sally’s relative Bonk Tasker, became an annual fixture.

Inspired by Sir Bobby Robson’s own fight against cancer, Sir Bobby’s Breakthrough Auction and Ball raised over £250,000, while events like Bury Wacky Races and the Simply the Breast Campaign raised money, awareness and big smiles.

“Achieving this milestone is a time for everyone who has been involved with the fundraising to feel proud because this is their triumph,” says Ollie Hatcher.

Gina adds: “To have reached this momentous milestone is a triumphant reflection of the incredible hard work undertaken by so many, and the support we have had from the great people of Suffolk and beyond. We have had the very best time fundraising and it will continue to go on and on.”

The fundraising has helped pave the way for Breakthrough’s first dedicated cancer research centre next to the Royal Marsden Hospital, which was followed by centres in Manchester and Glasgow. More importantly, survival rates for breast cancer have improved.

Earlier this year, the charity became Breast Cancer Now, and the need for fundraising and awareness-raising is as strong as ever.

Penny White joined the team eight years ago. Her charity efforst with retailer Hobbs in Bury St Edmunds was so successful Breakthrough rolled it out nationally.

“It’s been a huge privilege to be part of the Suffolk Breakthrough Breast Cancer Group,” she says. “I’ve been lucky enough to witness the result of improved research and treatment through close friends – treatment that sadly was not available at the start of our campaign.

“Through the continued support of our generous county, our campaign has been successful and has made a significant impact on research, awareness and treatment.

“My heartfelt thanks to everyone for their continued support, their strength to raise awareness and care for others – they are making a difference for every generation.”

Bonk Tasker says Suffolk Breakthrough has always been about the community coming together, having fun and making a difference.

“It has been both a huge pleasure and privilege to have been a small part of this fantastic journey. It is truly inspiring to see what a community can achieve. Together you have achieved an incredible milestone and we have all had a load of fun along the way. Suffolk, you are awesome.”

The last word goes to Laura Hudson, chair of the Suffolk Group.

“Six years ago, I became part of something very special, a group of individuals, all completely different but all driven by the same passion to end Breast Cancer. I joined the group because I lost my father to cancer when I was only 13. I believe the only way to stop people dying of this disease is by investing in research. Only then can we stop it for good.

“In volunteering for Breakthrough, I have met so many inspirational people, sufferers, survivors, family and fundraisers. I have been blown away by the generosity of countless local businesses to help us raise these vital funds, and I know we would not be at this momentous amount of money without any of them, and for that a huge thank you is due.”

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