George and the Giant Pledge

November 5th 2018 | Callie Sierra

Tomorrow marks the annual Pride of Britain awards, a glittering awards ceremony held in London where the extraordinary acts of ordinary people are celebrated.

Ahead of tomorrow’s ceremony we spoke with the Woodall family, founders of George and the Giant Pledge, a hugely successful children’s cancer charity dedicated to raising £1m for world-leading cancer centre The Royal Marsden hospital.

Vicki and James Wooddall were kind enough to share their thoughts on being nominated for such a prestigious award, the highs and lows of their journey so far and their advice to others on how to drive a successful fundraising campaign long-term.

Tell us about George and how the Giant Pledge came about?

Having found a lump out of the blue on our then four-year-old son George's back in November 2016 we went to our local A&E and instantly got referred to The Royal Marsden's Oak Centre for Children and Young Adults for further investigation. 

It was there we saw so many gravely ill children with no hair and tubes coming out of them and yet so many had a smile on their face. You can safely say it was both the most heart wrenching and heartwarming place we've ever been. Little did we know that just a matter of weeks later, on the 3rd of January 2017, George would be diagnosed with both a rare and aggressive cancer, a PNET Ewing's Sarcoma to be precise.

On New Year's Eve whilst waiting on George's biopsy results, at this stage not even aware that his lump was indeed cancerous, Woody and I set up our JustGiving Page, 'George and the Giant Pledge' as we knew something had to be done to help these children. That night our mission started to raise £100,000 to Help Beat Childhood Cancer. 

In just 2 short weeks not only were we given George's shocking cancer diagnosis but we also smashed our original £100,000 target for the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity!

We swiftly reset our fundraising target to a whopping £1,000,000 to fund research and support for other families as we now knew first hand just how awful childhood cancer is and strongly believed no child should ever have to go through this.

And how is George doing now?

We're so, so lucky as George currently has no evidence of disease. However, despite having thrown the kitchen sink at him, he still has a 50/50 chance of survival over the next 5 years. 

He also now has scoliosis as a direct result of his surgery and is routinely scanned every 12 weeks to see if he's relapsed but all that aside he's loving life and is thoroughly enjoying being back at school!!!

What were the hardest parts of fundraising along with dealing with George’s illness?

It's been quite a juggle managing George's treatment as well as trying to keep his brother and our family going through such a challenging and emotional time alongside all our fundraising. Alex and George have always come first but the fundraising has been our back bone that's kept us sane throughout all of this. 

When we can't sleep or in the In the early hours of the morning when the demons try to creep in the Giant Pledge has always given us a positive focus. We're determined something good will come from our awful situation and knowing precisely what projects the money was funding made each day more manageable.

What have been the high points along the way?

We've had some out of this world experiences including meeting some unbelievably inspiring and amazing people, both in terms of other oncology families and some very famous people such as HRH Prince William. 

But we've also been given the biggest wake up call as to what's important in life... never before would I have sat and done 9 puzzles in a row with our boys and so it's moments like those that now hold as highs over the last 12 months as odd as that may sound.

How did it feel to be nominated for a Pride of Britain award?

Being nominated for Pride of Britain was something else! We've just been cracking on with things for such a long time without having an opportunity to stop and think. Winning Pride of Britain for London was a huge wake up call to what we've managed to achieve. 

How valuable was the merchandise you sell to your fundraising efforts?

One thing we fast learnt was just how difficult large scale, longer term fundraising is. The initial push went so well thanks to all our friends and family's support but to achieve significant scale we needed to innovate and come up with new and different ideas. 

As yet 'another' charitable initiative to the millions of others already very well established we needed stand out and that's precisely what our George and the Giant Pledge capes and our other merchandise do! 

Not only do they give people something in return for their donation but they also help spread the word and raise awareness through their eye catching nature. Our capes are a particularly stand out feature and look amazing when worn for a marathon or charity run as well as very handy and versatile to throw on a celeb or two once in a while! 

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What have you learnt on your journey setting up a fundraising initiative and what advice would you give to others?

#AimHighStayPositive was an approach we adopted from the start, we honestly never knew if we'd raise £100,000 let along now just be £200,000 away from hitting our £1million target so we'd always say set yourself an ambitious target. 

That said fundraising isn't easy! To help keep perspective always remind yourself that every penny raised is a penny more than you had yesterday so equally don't be disheartened if things take longer than you'd hope. You can only do your best and give things a good go! We'd also suggest you take calculated risks and never be afraid to ask, the worst that can happen is that people say no... you just need to then move on fast.

Make the most of resources at your fingertips. Social media has always been the catalyst behind the Giant Pledge's success. It's helped us achieve scale and create awareness all at not a single penny's cost.

And finally we also have to point just how many amazing people there are out there!! I say that as the Giant Pledge is in fact a huge team effort! Over 10,000 people have donated or held their own Giant Pledge fundraiser to Help Beat Childhood Cancer which is why on our daily blog we finish each post with saying "Between us we've got this". We're so unbelievably grateful to everyone that's helped us on our mission.

How can people join in with the fun and help you continue to raise more funds for the Royal Marsden?

Whether it be a donation to https://giantpledge.com/donate or people using their time, talent or tenacity to hold their own fundraising Giant Pledge event it all helps create momentum. 

Buying a 'Tackle Childhood Cancer' t-shirt or Giant Pledge cape from https://giantpledge.com/shop is also a great way to raise awareness! You too can be a super hero in helping beat childhood cancer!!!

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For any other queries or fundraising ideas people can also get in touch directly on email with us and The Royal Marsden ( Lydia.Clark2@rmh.nhs.uk  &  GeorgeandtheGiantPledge@gmail.com )

Be sure to tune in to the Pride of Britain awards ceremony on ITV tomorrow night, 8pm.