Heaven and Hell with: Sally Bramall

Sally, Lizzie, and Mark 

Sally, Lizzie, and Mark - Credit: Sally Bramall

I was fortunate recently to spend time with an extraordinary woman. Sally Bramall is a Suffolk mum who is the driving force behind Lizzie’s Fund, set up by her nine-year-old daughter to raise money for The Brain Tumour Charity.   

Lizzie was diagnosed with a rare and inoperable brain tumour called DIPG in early 2018, and died just nine months later, a week before her 10th birthday.  Over the past three years, Sally has continued to fundraise in Lizzie’s memory and has now raised nearly £400,000 for research into childhood brain tumours.   

Her current fundraiser is an online art and craft auction, featuring many East Anglian artists. Here she talks to Gina Long.  

Sally Bramall

Sally Bramall - Credit: The Brain Tumour Charity

What’s the impact of COVID-19 and how are you adapting? 

I’ve loved being able to work from home, sitting at my kitchen table looking out over our garden that backs onto the River Stour in Nayland, feeling the seasons change, yet being able to work incredibly easily with colleagues at Willis Towers Watson all over the world. My husband Mark works for a small engineering firm so he never had the opportunity of working from home, so our cockapoo Ella and I have the space to ourselves.  

What is your connection to East Anglia? 

My parents met and married in Ipswich in the 60s, moved away, but came back to Suffolk when I was 10 and I’ve never left!  My teenage years were in and around Woodbridge, then closer to Ipswich. Mark and I moved to Nayland four years ago, just a couple of months before Lizzie was diagnosed. The village has completely put its arms around us since - I can never imagine living anywhere else.  

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What is your East Anglian heaven? 

The magnificent big skies. Somehow big East Anglian skies just feel different to everywhere else. We also get such amazing rainbows which feel like messages from heaven – and friends often send me photos which they have seen as a sign from Lizzie.   

What is your East Anglian hell? 

Queuing up A12 to get around Copdock Mill roundabout. 

What’s your favourite East Anglian landmark? 

Very locally, St Peter’s Church in Stoke by Nayland is perched on the top of the ‘hill’ above Nayland and is like a beacon for miles around. You can see it walking from so many different directions and it seems to catch the light at all times of day.   

What’s the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year? 

It’s quite hard to choose between lots of great beer festivals… 

What is your favourite restaurant? 

Again, there are so many amazing traditional pubs serving great food and with Adnams on tap, it will always tick the box for us.  We had an absolutely fabulous meal with friends a couple of weeks ago at the Forager’s Retreat in Pebmarsh. As the name suggests, their food includes locally-foraged wild food and was simply marvellous. 

What your specialist Mastermind subject? 

Pass!  

What is always in your fridge? 

I am very partial to cheese. 

What’s your simple philosophy of life? 

Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today - you never know what’s round the corner.   

What’s your favourite film? 

If I’m on my own, I’ll probably indulge in something like a Jane Austen adaptation. I actually still have my school A-Level copy of Pride and Prejudice with juvenile pencil marking scrawled across the pages! 

Lizzie loved Mama Mia, so if I feel like a little tipsy sing-song and a bit of a cry, that’s a good choice. 

Mark, Lizzie, Sally, and their cockapoo Ella

Mark, Lizzie, Sally, and their cockapoo Ella - Credit: Sally Bramall

What was your first job? 

My first Saturday job was at a shop called Party Props in Upper Orwell Street in Ipswich, which was great fun in the run up to Christmas. When I finished my A-Levels, I deferred my university place for a year, got a temporary job at Willis Faber & Dumas, and 30 years later I’m still there, splitting my time between the Ipswich and London offices.   

What is your most treasured possession? 

I’ve got so many of Lizzie’s treasures, I’m incredibly sentimental about them. I have a particularly lovely glass cast of her hand, created by a lovely glass factory in Norfolk from one of our holidays which I adore – the physicality of touching her hand is wonderful. My granny also left me her engagement ring as her eldest granddaughter which I treasure – there’s something special about continuity through the generations.   

Who do you admire most? 

Mark and I have so many friends who have been such wonderful support through difficult days, supporting all our mad fundraising ideas, and keeping us moving forward. Amazing people have walked miles, climbed mountains, cycled over hills, sung all night, stitched and baked. They find words even when there are no words.   

What is your biggest indulgence? 

Homemade bread. Lizzie loved to bake, but radiotherapy meant she lost her ‘sweet tooth’ so she started baking breads and included some in her recipe book ‘Keep Baking’ that she wrote during her illness. 

What do you like about yourself most? 

I like having green eyes.   

What’s your worst character trait? 

Punctuality - it drives many around me mad.   

Where is your favourite holiday destination? 

I absolutely love the Norfolk Coast. I’ve had lots of family holidays there with my sister and brothers plus their families. The kids always took their bikes and loved racing along the flat sands at Brancaster at low tide and visiting the seals.   

Best day of your life? 

There have been so many! The last four years during Lizzie’s illness and since her death have meant I have really focused on all the great days we shared together and holding onto wonderful memories of every stage of her life. So it’s suddenly hard to single out one.   

What’s your favourite breakfast? 

Scrambled egg, extremely crispy bacon and sourdough toast.   

What’s your favourite tipple? 

A lovely dry English sparkling wine (or champagne at a push), but as we head into winter I’ll be switch to warming reds. I’m going through a pinot noir phase at the moment.   

What’s your hidden talent? 

I always used to sew lots as a teenager to make my clothes allowance go further. When Lizzie became ill, I needed something tactile to do but I could only concentrate on small projects so started sewing little Christmas decorations that we could sell for Lizzie’s Fund.

Rediscovering my embroidery skills has led to some super fundraising workshops and during lockdown we set up a Nayland Stitching Group via Zoom.   

What’s your earliest memory? 

Waking on Christmas morning to snow when my granny was staying with us in the Cotswolds – I’d have been about three. It’s possible I dreamt the snow though.  

Tell us something people don’t know about you? 

Our cockapoo Ella is named after Nutella chocolate spread because she’s chocolate brown!  

What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you? 

“Your child has cancer and there’s no treatment - go home and make memories.” I know that sounds a bit blunt, but that’s why we raise money for research into childhood brain tumours, so no parent is told there’s no treatment.

Brain tumours are the biggest cancer killer of children and young people under 40, yet in comparison to so many cancers one of the poorest funded, and as a result the survival rates are much worse. Only research will change the prognosis, and that takes money.   

Tell us why you live here and nowhere else? 

It has everything I need - tranquillity, beauty, community, and family. This morning I looked out of my bedroom window at the most beautiful sunrise above the river mist, then walked the dog and chatted to countless lovely people and stopped for delicious food at our village butchers. We live in an amazing place.   

What do you want to tell our readers about most? 

Lizzie’s Fund is currently holding an online art and craft auction as our Christmas fundraiser. We’ve had wonderful donations from lots of talented local artists, friends, family and friends of friends - all of whom have been touched by the need to move the dial to find a cure for brain cancer.

The auction includes lots of stunning paintings, prints, textiles, crochet, quilting, pottery, jewellery – I really hope there is something for everyone or a perfect Christmas gift for a loved one. And every penny goes to Lizzie’s Fund. 

To find out more, visit app.galabid.com/lizziesfundart and lizziesfund.co.uk