West Suffolk: Dedicated fundraiser Gina Long urges people to bid for lots in EACH/Sir Bobby Robson auction before it closes on Sunday night

Gina Long who is heading up the East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices specialist volunteer events commit

Gina Long who is heading up the East Anglias Childrens Hospices specialist volunteer events committee. - Credit: Anglia Newspapers

Gina Long once went to pick up Sir Bobby Robson from the airport.

Gina at a fundraising event

Gina at a fundraising event - Credit: Archant

“I’ll never forget it,” she remembers.

“I saw him come through at the far end of the concourse but it took him literally an hour and a half to get to me, although I could see him the whole time. It was because he had to stop for every single person. That’s how it always was with Bob. Everyone wanted his autograph. And he would stop for all of them. Every single one.”

After Sir Bobby died in 2009 following his long battle with cancer, Gina wanted to do something in his memory. She had known him and Lady Elsie, as a friend of her family’s, for over 30 years. Her parents, Peter and Margaret Horsman, lived at the old Neptune Inn in Fore Street, Ipswich, where Bobby and Elsie would enjoy social occasions with the Horsman family.

Long after the Robsons moved away from Ipswich (although they kept their house in Suffolk almost until he died), Gina and her family kept in touch with them. “I just really wanted to do something after he died,” she says, “and then I had the idea of an online auction.”

Breast Cancer campaign

Breast Cancer campaign - Credit: Archant

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Gina has a long history of charity work. Currently chair of EACH Special Events Committee, she has also been chair of the Prince’s Trust Suffolk Fund Raising Committee and in 1999 with her friends Ollie Hatcher, Helen Cook, Linda Grave, Pat Pipe, Bonk Tasker and Sally Balch was one of the founders of Breakthrough Breast Cancer Suffolk after Sally Balch was diagnosed. Breakthrough Suffolk has raised £956,000 in the last ten years and when Gina says she is determined that they will soon reach a million, in memory of Sally who died in 2004, you don’t doubt for a second that they will.

“I love the Gandi quote, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth,” Gina says. “And I’ve always been interested in giving back. It is something my mum has always been very big on. She says, “If you put your mind to it, and you have the right foundation, you can achieve anything you want to do. And she’s right. I’ve done balls, lunches, walks, swims, you name it. The first was when I was 13. I hired St Matthew’s Baths in Ipswich for a 24 hour swimathon and I raised £1,300 for a local school for children with special needs which was a lot of money then.”

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Gina was a champion swimmer as a girl who trained with Sharron Davies. “I think it was the swimming training that gave me the discipline you need for fundraising,” says Gina whose charity work is all unpaid. “Getting up every morning to swim before school, swimming for three hours every day, it teaches you a lot about persistence, and really, when it comes down to it, that’s what fund raising is all about.”

But there is persistence. And then there is Gina.

EACH fundraiser

EACH fundraiser - Credit: Archant

The online auction idea came to her because ‘the children were always on the internet and I suddenly realised its potential for fundraising.’ She is mum to Sam and Ali, and stepmum to James, Charles, Georgina, Thomas and Olivia aged between 26-13. Gina had the idea of getting people to donate fantastic prizes to raise money for Breakthrough breast cancer research and for the foundation Sir Bobby set up 18 months before he died to raise money for ground breaking cancer trials.

“Bobby must have attended over 20 of my fundraisers because he knew that him being there made a difference,” Gina says. “So I was determined to do my best for him. I remember I kept ringing up Chris Hollins at the BBC and begging to get on the BBC Breakfast sofa because I knew it would give us the big audience we needed for the auction to be a success. He kept telling me that I needed to give him ‘stardust’ so I promised him that I would.”

One of her ‘stardust’ ideas was to get José Mourinho to donate something. “He was at Real Madrid at the time so I kept phoning his secetaries. I called them so many times, they started to say, “Hello, Miss Gina!” whenever I called. But they promised me that José was going to donate something eventually so I kept ringing. I rang about 80 times in total. And then, one magical day, they told me that he had decided what he wanted to donate and it was certainly worth waiting for.”

José had in fact decided to donate his Fifa Ballon d’Or – the most prestigious trophy he had been awarded personally– for Coach of the World in 2010.

Gina picked up the phone and rang Chris Hollins. “I’ve got the stardust!” she said.

Chris honoured his promise to invite Gina onto the sofa to promote the auction and she was joined there by Lady Elsie Robson.

“I had a deal with her,” Gina smiles, “I told her, if I get on, you will have to come with me, and, of course, when Chris said yes, she did.”

Chris Hollins has now become so involved with the charity, he has even acted as MC at one of the Sir Bobby Breakthrough Balls Gina has organised. He told ea life: “I remember Gina emailing and promising that she would get a prize with the wow factor, and she kept coming back with things that were even more wow! Now, whatever Gina signs me up for, I will always support her. She is a very special woman with a very big heart.”

Gina says that the first online auction, held in 2011, took about 18 months to organise. “I had planned to get around 30 items, but we ended up with 140. José’s gift raised £26,000 alone.” A second auction was held last year and so far over £609,000 has been raised. Gina hopes to add at least £60,000 to that total after the third auction finishes on Sunday at 8pm.

This year’s auction is in aid of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and EACH (East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices). The previous two auctions were in aid of the Sir Bobby Foundation and Breakthrough.

“Some of the prizes will go for a lot of money, others are more affordable,” says Gina. “And even if you can’t afford to bid, you can always make a donation.”

Gina has organised the auction this year with ‘my co pilots’ on EACH special events committee Carol Klug and fund raising development manager Camilla Haycock. “I do the admin,” says Carol, whose husband Bryan is head of the ITFC academy. “Camilla deals with the prizes and getting them online and Gina does the ideas and has the little black book of contacts to make all the phone calls. I thought long and hard about getting involved because it does take over your life but getting involved with EACH, I realised just how much money they need every day to offer the support they do to so many families in the area, and I just couldn’t not.”

Both women are at pains to stress the ‘team work’ involved in charity fundraising. Gina’s list of people to thank is so long I could hardly fit it in! “But it’s important that people realise how much time and effort so many people put in and how much can be achieved by working together,” Gina said. “There’s this huge network of people who want to help and that’s what so rewarding.”

Gina checked her emails on behalf of the three auctions over the past five years and there were 47,000.

“People ask me why I do it. I have been fortunate in my life. My husband Andrew, the children, my sister, Cherie, all the family, I couldn’t do it without their amazing back up.

“My late father used to say, ‘a life making mistakes is better than a life doing nothing. And over the years and most recently I can see how this most unexpected and unwelcome disease affects one’s life. Sally, Sir Bobby, it always seems to be the very best people and we all have the power to make a difference.

Sir Bobby, he had time for everyone and I always think, if everyone just gave an hour of their time, just think what we could achieve together.”

For more on the charity, visit our webpage here

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