On Tuesday evening I attended a different kind of awards show. There was no red carpet, and no paparazzi. There’ll be little press coverage and there were no major celebrities in attendance. The evening’s excellent host was wearing a dress and shoes from a Cancer Research shop in honour of her late mother, and borrowed my mascara in the ladies’ room because she’d forgotten to bring any. There was no rivalry in the room, no cynical networking or waving of Union flags, but plenty of hugs and warm squeezes between complete strangers. These were the Just Giving Awards, where the British public’s most inspiring and heroic charity fundraisers are honoured. And its celebration of ordinariness made it all the more special.
The nominees were everyday people who had sacrificed their time and huge effort to bring positive change to the lives of others. One winner, Mac McDermott, was so helped by The Alzheimer’s Society following the heartbreaking diagnosis of his father Ted’s disease, and so desperate to give his singing-obsessed father (and full-time carer mother) some enjoyable respite, that he began filming himself and his dad singing carpool karaoke to raise tens of thousands for the charity. One of his fellow nominees, Paul Trueman, was so inspired by Helen’s fictional coercive control / domestic abuse storyline in The Archers, that he began campaigning for Refuge - raising over £135k so far and, just as importantly, inspiring donors to share their own stories of abuse on his Just Giving page. Another nominee, Natalia Spencer, is walking the entire British coastline in memory of her tiny girl, who died suddenly and unavoidably of pneumonia, and to raise fortunes for an NHS hospital. 13 year-old Alasdair Clift visited every tube station in London to help sick kids live when his brother couldn't hold out for the treatment he needed; Amy Peake raised money for sanitary towel machines for Syrian refugee camps, and double amputee Aaron Phipps crawled up Kilimanjaro on his knees because it was faster than travelling by wheelchair and the Meningitis Research Foundation desperately needs some cash.
Just Giving is a demonstrable and tangible reality proving that ordinary people still are frequently, purposefully, quietly, extraordinary
These are just some of the amazing stories and incredible people that had me crying so consistently for over three hours that I got a headache from trying to stop my face contorting. For the final award of the night, I simply gave up. Just Giving’s first ever Special Recognition Award was presented posthumously to my friend Carey Lander, keyboardist and vocalist with Glasgow band Camera Obscura, who died of Osteosarcoma in October 2015. There are already a million reasons to remember her, but Just Giving were publicly honouring Carey because she received more single donations than anyone else in Just Giving’s history, from over 50 different countries (her total stands at over £130k and counting). Because she did this while at her sickest, at her most hopeless, while knowing she was leaving behind those who loved her most, who were unable to contemplate our lives without her. They were honouring the fact that since Carey’s barely one year-old campaign began, this vile, appalling, cruel form of cancer has been mentioned more in the press and on social media than it collectively ever has been before. People know about Sarcoma because of Carey, people are funding research into Sarcoma because of Carey and ultimately, fewer children and adults will die from Sarcoma because of Carey.
Carey's mum Eileen Lander collected the award on her behalf, and responded to the common criticism that charity shouldn’t exist where public funding rightly should. She acknowledged that it’s bad that we have to intervene where governments don’t, but insisted it’s also good – because it reminds us of what it is to be human, what our relationships with others mean, how we can work together to do great things. And after what has been the bleakest and most depressing year in recent political history, this summed up immediately why I cannot allow myself to despair. Because regardless of what is happening in the news, Just Giving is a demonstrable and tangible reality proving that ordinary people still are frequently, purposefully, quietly, extraordinary. Their kindness must prevail.
We miss Carey every single day and will never stop highlighting the cause of Sarcoma. You can donate in Carey’s name to Sarcoma UK, who still desperately need our help, here.
All of the wonderful and deserving Just Giving Awards nominees and their charities are listed here.