Trustee Brian Downton’s year of fundraising

HOLG trustee Brian Downton, 56, owner of Downton Ali Associates Financial Advisers, is not one to shy away from a challenge. Having run, swum, and cycled countless miles over the years in the name of charity, he has raised thousands of pounds in much-needed funds. And it’s his commitment to helping worthy causes that led him to support HOLG long before he became officially involved with our organisation. He tells us about the many events he’s taken part in this year and what’s in the calendar for the coming months:

“I started doing challenges about 10 years ago. I used to be a heavy smoker and when I gave up, I put on a lot of weight so initially it was about getting fit. But I realised it was also a great way to raise awareness of good causes.

“Through my business, I’m involved in the Openwork Foundation which provides grants to UK charities and supports colleagues and advisers to volunteer to help vulnerable people in communities. So, some of my first events were in support of the Foundation. I started off just cycling and took part in the Nightrider the first year it ran – a 60-mile bike ride around London.

“Then I went on to do the first five Ride London cycling events which are 100 miles in the Surrey Hills. From there, I went on to do a bit of running. The company that runs Ride London also organises the London Marathon and Swim Serpentine (where competitors take on one lap of the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park). They brought out what they call the ‘Classics Medal’; to get it, you have to do Ride London, the London Marathon, and the two-mile version of Swim Serpentine over any period of time, which I achieved in 2016.

I started running and swimming even more that’s led onto doing triathlons. I’ve been doing those for six years and I built up to Ironman Austria which is a long-distance Triathlon covering a 3.8km swim, 180km bike followed by running a marathon. The training for that is incredible – around 15-16 hours a week.

“It was around four years ago that I started raising funds through these events for HOLG. The Openwork Foundation has always had a focus on caring for children and the grants it awards are aimed at relevant charities. Over five years I’ve had five grants approved by Openwork, totalling £50,000, twice for HOLG plus grants for Beams and Demelza which is fantastic.

About six years ago, I began running a public vote on social media to help choose a different charity every year to split the money I raised with. One year, both Beams (a children’s respite charity) and HOLG were very keen to be the chosen charity – I remember Caroline Gaskin, the fundraising officer, really got her teeth into it! Both charities got a really high number of votes, so I chose both of them.

Eventually I was asked by Caroline Ford, the HOLG CEO, to become a trustee for the charity which I agreed to do during the lockdown and I am really enjoying getting more involved in the charity; HOLG is now my permanent charity of the year.

“Every year, my wife and I organise a Spring Ball. It’s in its fifth year and normally raises £7,000-£10,000. That’s where most of the funds come from. I also do an annual overseas bike ride – this year, we’re heading to Albania for 6 days. I have to raise at least £3k to take part. The first year was easy but it gets more difficult every year as you only have the same pool of people to ask for sponsorship each time so an event like this really makes the fundraising easier!

“So far this year, I’ve done the Hell of the Ashdown, The 7 Oaks Triathlon, Tonbridge Triathlon, Castle Ride Kent, Ride London Essex, Chase the Sun, and the Oyster Man Triathlon. The main event for me this year was Chase the Sun – a 205-mile cycle in one day right across the south of England – I’ve never cycled that far before!  The Great North Run in September was a big one too as it’s the first time I’ve done it.

And the year’s events end with the 6-day cycle challenge in Albania with The Openwork Foundation. We have been doing overseas cycle challenges for over 20 years and this will be my 6th having previously cycled in China, India, Nepal, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Next year I am planning another Ironman in Copenhagen with several smaller triathlons as training events for it.

“Through all the challenges, I’ve raised around £9,000 so far this year. I’d really like the funds raised to go towards helping HOLG to get our own premises. It would give us a good foundation to build and grow. We can use it to host the bereavement weekends and hire it out as an income generator, ideally covering all expenses and wages. The closer we get to self-sufficiency, the better – that way all the money we raise can go directly towards helping children and their families.”

To find out more about the events Brian organises and takes part in, and to donate, please visit his fundraising page