Gina's having a ball helping others
PUBLISHED: 09:31 04 October 2016 | UPDATED: 09:42 04 October 2016
On October 14, Suffolk magazine will support veteran fundraiser Gina Long at a charity ball to help some of the county’s families affected by disability and cancer. Dave Gooderham talked to Gina about her new charity, GeeWizz, and her life-long passion for helping others
Gina Long’s professional life is one of contrasts. With an address book that is the envy of Suffolk and beyond, and a dream to help the most needy families in her home county, Gina has successfully interwoven the two in a 40-year career as a charity campaigner, which last year saw her achievements recognised with an MBE.
She has always felt blessed to have the continued support of family, friends, business leaders, dignitaries and more, but there’s a reason everything Gina touches turns golden for the national and local charities she supports. Ask anyone who knows her and the words ‘passionate’, ‘enthusiastic’, ‘dedicated’ and ‘driven’ come tumbling out.
Now she has channelled that passion to help others through her own charitable trust, GeeWizz, in a bid to make more of a direct impact on the lives of disabled people and families affected by cancer. Explaining the origins of the charity, Gina says the guiding principle is transparency and trust.
“I want people to believe in what I am trying to achieve and to actually see where the money raised goes – so far it’s a recipe that is showing great success, thanks to our generous supporters.”
The charity might be less than a year old, but like her past successes, it is heading towards a hugely successful first birthday.
Never happy having just one big project to organise, with weeks to go before the charity ball in The Hangar at Milsoms Kesgrave on October 14, Gina was in the middle of planning her next global Ultimate Charity Auction – www.ultimatecharityauction.com – a two-week online fundraiser supporting four national and local charities, which gives people the chance to bid on a vast array of money-can’t-buy prizes. This year’s auction – Saturday October 22 to Sunday November 6 – is expected to raise £1 million for the first time since this successful fundraising format was first started by Gina in 2012. The ball, organised in partnership with Suffolk Magazine and Paul Milsom, owner of Milsoms, sold out four months before the big event, and GeeWizz has already gained valuable support from William van Cutsem, who along with legendary former Ipswich Town and England defender Terry Butcher are the charity’s ambassadors.
The event has attracted other high-profile names, with support from former England cricketer and broadcaster Graeme Swann, Suffolk operatic star Laura Wright, who will be performing, and popular television presenter Chris Hollins, acting as MC for the evening. He will be joined by Graeme Swann later in the evening.
“We couldn’t have asked for more support for GeeWizz’s first big fundraising event,” said Gina. “Everyone is working so hard to ensure it is a great success, and to raise as much money as possible to support our work helping disabled people and families affected by cancer.”
A career helping others
Gina’s career reads like a who’s who of charities. She was one of the founding members of the Suffolk Breakthrough Breast Cancer group, which announced last year that it had raised £1 million to help fund research into the disease, while the Ultimate Charity Auction, now in its fifth year, has supported the likes of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, Breast Care Now, East Anglia’s Children’s Hospice and Ipswich Hospital. This year, the auction will support community football projects run by In The Game, the League Managers Association charity, Sarcoma UK, GeeWizz and the My WiSH Charity, supporting Gina’s local hospital, the West Suffolk.
Gina, and her husband, Andrew, created the Classic Sports Cars by the Lake, held annually at their farm to raise money for St Nicholas Hospice Care. She was also part of the Suffolk fundraising committee of the Prince’s Trust, helping to raise more than £400,000, and was chairman of EACH’s special events committee, covering Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and North Essex. She is patron of the Bury St Edmunds Womens Aid Centre, and the Ipswich and Suffolk Business Club, as well as the first ambassador of West Suffolk Hospital and its My WiSH Charity.
Gina started fundraising at the age of 13, organising a 24-hour swimathon in Ipswich and raising £1,300 for children with special needs.
“I have always believed very strongly in the positive difference charity can make on individuals, families and communities. That is what drives me on.” She has two children, Samuel and Alexandra, and five stepchildren, James, Charles, Georgina, Thomas and Olivia.
“Over the many years doing what I love, I have finally worked out the right work/life balance. My family life will always come first. I feel very blessed to have been given such wonderful opportunities, to work with some amazing people and to have such a supportive family around me.
“I live by the Ghandi quote, Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” She established GeeWizz because she wanted to know exactly where every penny of the money she raised was going.
“It is not just about the money. I work pro-actively with families who may have a sick child and don’t know where to turn to. Their lives could be dramatically improved by having an upgraded or electric wheelchair, rather than a manual one – something that may not get funded elsewhere.
“The greatest gift I have been given over the last 10 months with GeeWizz is to see the happiness that has come from being able to help individuals and families.”