Sold-out gala in memory of Suffolk rugby player smashes ‘modest’ fundraising hopes

Josh Gilbert Picture: ED FORD

Josh Gilbert Picture: ED FORD - Credit: Archant

A sold-out gala dinner in memory of a ‘larger than life’ Suffolk rugby player who fell ill and died during a match last year has hugely exceeded fundraisers’ expectations.

Initial calculations show the Suffolk Big Bear’s Fundraiser event, which attracted 300 people, raised more than £25,000 towards causes associated with Josh Gilbert, who was playing for Thurston Rugby Club against Hadleigh on September 16, 2017, when he collapsed on the pitch from a rare heart condition.

The popular 25-year-old, from Walsham-le-Willows, was chairman of Bury Young Farmers’ Club and a keen sportsman who also played for Walsham-le-Willows Cricket Club.

His death inspired Suffolk Young Farmers, Thurston Rugby Club and Walsham-le-Willows Sports Club to organise a fundraising dinner including a charity auction, with proceeds to be divided between main beneficiary the Heart UK charity as well as Suffolk Young Farmers, Thurston Rugby Club and Walsham Cricket Club.

The Gilbert family said it was an “epic” evening, which raised an “eye-watering” sum through “unselfish acts of generosity”.

“Little did we know what a incredible event this would become,” said organisers, who thanked sponsors and supporters. “The initial profit calculations are showing in excess of £25,000 for the evening which demonstrated just what a huge level of respect and regard was shown for Josh.”

The dinner featured a raffle, heads and tails, and an auction which attracted some fierce bidding for prizes including machinery hire, ITFC hospitality and RBS six nations tickets.

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The Gilbert family said: “Our initial reaction to this news is one of incredulity as when we created a plan for the event we hoped to stage an enjoyable evening and maybe create a modest surplus that would be divided amongst his clubs and the charity.

“Little did we know just how comprehensively Joshua’s many friends would help us to obliterate both objectives by creating one of the most epic social evenings in the long history of Walsham Sports Club, whilst also raising an eye-watering amount of money through unselfish acts of generosity.

“The Gilbert family would like to sincerely thank all of those who played any part in helping to stage or support the evening and are proud to report that Josh would have approved in full.”