We spoke recently to Avril Gall, a long-time CAC supporter who has a very unusual way of raising funds for her favourite charity.
CAC: Avril, could you tell us how you got involved in CAC and how long ago?
Avril: John (Ellison, our founder – Ed.) was assistant manager when my daughter was in the GB Youth climbing team. And that was 16-ish years ago. And when we found out he had cancer and was setting up CAC we just wanted to help him out as much as possible. I think we got some of the first T-shirts.
(Indeed! see right! And 10 years on, below)
CAC: It’s amazing how he just kind of talked to people about this idea and people instantly wanted to help out. It’s a story we’ve heard many times. His idea was simple, to sell some T-shirts and make some money for research. Some of us weren’t perhaps totally convinced but he was a difficult man to say no to! And 10 years later, over £500,000 has been distributed!
Avril: Yes, John was just so enthusiastic about promoting the whole “get cancer out the closet” idea. And I just felt he was right. We need to talk about these sorts of things because it takes away the fear. I was in Gemozac the year before he launched CAC, as a chaperone with the team, and I remember him taking out the CAC logo that had been put together for the T-shirts and he was just so enthusiastic about doing it and the reasons he was doing it.
We want to shout about what people are doing to raise funds and awareness, and what you do is so unusual! After all… Climbers Against Cancer… you would imagine fundraisers are going be climbing-related, with people doing things in their halls or outdoors, but you’re doing something completely different! Upcycling against cancer! How did that come about? Was this already a hobby, or something you did professionally?
Absolutely not! It was during lockdown. The dumps were all shut and people had all this unwanted furniture to get rid of. And they were posting it up on a local Facebook page, beautiful furniture. And nobody was taking it, because it was ‘boring brown’, that sort of thing. And so I thought, I’m going to have a wee try at that. I’d seen some programmes on TV… so I started taking in unwanted furniture and nipping down to the DIY shop when it re-opened to see what sample pots they were getting rid of. And then just painting the furniture, doing some artwork on it, and then popping it up on Facebook to sell. And I really didn’t want to take the money since I’m retired. So I just work out my costs and then donate most of the profit to CAC a couple of times a year. (Avril donated 845 in 2023, plus direct donations from some of her customers – Ed.). It’s amazing how many people donate furniture to me because of that, because they have been touched by cancer themselves. They might drop off the china cabinet with tales about their Auntie who died of cancer, or their husband who’s going through treatment. Everybody’s got a story. And again, that is very much what John was about, talking about it, sharing. And this gives people an ‘in’ to talk about the cancer that’s been touching their lives, the people that they’ve lost.
That could make a really interesting book, a chapter per piece of furniture and the story behind it. You probably get people from different walks of life?
Quite different pieces too! I take in furniture that’s early to mid 20th century, so it’s no longer fashionable as it is, and give it a whole new look and new life. It’s no longer going to the dump.
So you’re kind of giving it chemo and then it has a new lease of life post-treatment?
You could say that, like it’s on this drug trial with a bit of paint and paper and it comes out the other side looking so much better and taking on this second life!
The reason we wanted to have this chat is that a donation came through the website from a lady who said you had asked her to give a donation to CAC rather than pay you for the piece she bought. So not only are people approaching you because they have had a cancer-related experience, there are people who see and like what you do, and you get a chance to talk to them about CAC and spread awareness that way. Raising awareness is the second pillar of our remit after research. So, it’s win-win all round!
Do you actually have any room in your garage? Does the car still fit?
The car’s never been in the garage! But it’s the house. I’ve got a room downstairs that’s full of projects to be done. I’ve got a room upstairs full of projects that have been done but need sold and then there’s my work room. Thankfully we have quite a big house with my daughter being grown up. I have two tables in the hallway at the moment and two drinks cabinets in my living room. So it’s all over the place. You can’t walk in without having to navigate round pieces of furniture. I sold quite a few over Christmas but as soon as I have space I’ve got to fill it.
People looking for unusual gifts?
I think people perhaps got money over Christmas and wanted to invest in something that sang to them. It’s not like Ikea or Marks & Spencer, it sings to them in a particular way. So they treated themselves.
How do you decide what you’re going to do with a piece?
I have drawers full of different découpage papers. I’ll see a piece and think that would be perfect for this or that item. I got a cracking design découpage paper months ago, then a round drum table came in and I thought it would be perfect. It turned out really well. A lady bought it because it sang to her , it just made her feel happy, which is what we upcyclers do. We make people feel happy about their furniture.
There’s a lot to be happy about. These are items that have had a life and now a new life. It’s very ‘circular economy’ and perhaps people are more willing now to look for the unusual piece, or something that’s got a story, rather than just off the shelf?
It’s about quality, because you’re buying a piece that lasts. If you buy something that is quality but it no longer suits your house well, don’t get rid of it, just upcycle. Change how it looks so it does fit in. Or buy something that you love so much that if you move home, you’ll fit the house around the furniture rather than the other way round.
Not everybody has the creative streak so that they can take the ‘boring brown’ piece of furniture and turn it into something fabulous…
It’s something I never thought I could do. I used to work in computing! But I suddenly discovered that I enjoyed the artistic side to things. The more you do the better you get, you think ‘I’ll give that a shot’.
Do you find it therapeutic?
Absolutely. I keep saying to people, you’re keeping me sane! My husband is also retired, so if we were sitting next to each other the whole time, it would drive us absolutely crazy. So I disappear upstairs and crack on with upcycling and painting, come down for meals, and we talk about our day! And we still climb a couple of times a week, so that’s good for the social side.
Here’s where we plug your Facebook page : Pink Dot Upcycling
People are welcome to follow. I don’t take commissions because I don’t want to be tied down to somebody else’s ideas. I much prefer to get a piece, work on it myself and then hope it sells.
Do check it out folks and perhaps you can buy a piece, donate the money to CAC and free up some space in Avril’s house for more projects!
It does show that raising funds for CAC doesn’t need to be climbing-related. You don’t need to climb the height of Everest in your local gym. There’s lots of other ways. Another thing I do is to run a plant stall on my garden wall during the summer. I take cuttings from my garden and grow tomato plants and put them on the wall for the neighbours to help themselves, with requests for donations, in a donation box. It doesn’t raise a lot of money, but again, it gets people looking up the CAC name and maybe acting on it. I supply half of the neighbourhood with tomato plants in summer!
Thanks so much Avril for what you do for CAC and for telling us about it. Perhaps it will inspire other people to find different ways to support us, and hopefully share their story with us too! (firstname.lastname@example.org).