In an exclusive Island Life interview Karen Eeles looks back on her demanding role as fund raising manager, and her highs and lows, during which time she generated millions of pounds for the Hospice.
Karen first became involved with EMH in 1997 after her mother died there. Then in 2002 she applied for the job as community fund raiser with the task of raising £1million for a new ward to be built.
She recalls: “I was taken on to do the million pound BRICK appeal to build the new ward. “When I started it was very hard to raise money. We did masses of tea parties and then one really big tea party in June. We had a three-year target but we raised the money for the BRICK appeal in two years.”
Karen can look back with pride on many fine achievements, but believes possibly the biggest was to introduce the ‘Sunflower’ into the Isle of Wight Festival. She explained: “I went to the Festival just to earn the money to pay for the security at the hospice because we have to have security. “John Giddings (Festival promoter) said go along and rattle a few tins.
We raised around £300, and we gave out little sunflowers. People kept asking ‘what the heck is this?’, so the following year I brought 1,000 big sunflowers, and we sold them all in one day. Now that has grown to 10,000, and in all we raised over a £100,000 selling sunflowers.
” Karen maintains there was never a ‘low point’ in her EMH career, but admits: “There were some things I did which I didn’t like – I had to row a rowing machine in Albany Prison, and that was a bit scary! I also went for an egg-eating contest; I had to be rescued by dog in the middle of the Solent, and I had to do ‘tea at three’ in a lifeboat and I got really seasick.”
Karen was responsible for organising the ever-popular Walk the Wight, which in 2009 alone raised £360,000, the biggest ever sum for one event. She said: “When I first began we had 2,000 walkers, now there are over 11,000.” She never took anything for granted during her fund-raising missions, saying: “The bulk of the money comes from the general public; the £50 donations. You go along to anything because those people continue to support you year in, year out.” She continued: “When I first started we had a following but not as big as we have now. The fun is finding new events like abseiling; looking at different things to interest different people. “You couldn’t do the job if you thought ‘I can’t do it this week because we have got to raise £10,000’.
“If you went to work thinking that you wouldn’t raise anything. You have to be positive.” Karen openly admits that raising so much for EMH is sometimes to the detriment of other local charities. She said: “I do feel sorry for other charities but it was probably because I am louder than most. It’s not that the other charities are not as good, because they are, it’s just that I am a loud, quite passionate person and I hope that rubbed off on the rest of my team.” Karen said it was a sad day when it was time to say her goodbyes and walk away from the EMH. She reflected: “Do you know what? I am very sad.
“No way did I want to leave but perhaps it was time to leave. Perhaps they do need somebody to raise more money and perhaps I had been there too long. Realistically perhaps that is right, but I am heartbroken really.
“Everything is your baby. I don’t want it not to succeed but the thought of someone else doing my baby… Of course there will be someone else, but probably not as crazy as me. I hope they do find someone, and it’s just building up a relationship with people.
“I am passionate and I don’t want people to stop supporting the Hospice. I see the care which goes on in there, and with my own mum, so I don’t want it to close. I want it to continue. We have got to support the supporters.”
”Karen has promised she will be back for her ‘Walk the Wight’, adding: “I don’t know whether I will actually walk it, but maybe it’s an opportunity to walk it. Or perhaps they could push me around in a wheelchair, over those hills, and I could hand out water!”
Karen may have left her EMH duties behind her, but she still has plenty of ambitions for the future. She said emphatically: “I am not going to lie down and do nothing – I am not retiring yet. I have had lots of people approach me to ask if I would help them out and I am just sitting down at the moment and thinking about the next challenge!”