An inspirational year

Written by: HTU | Published:

When Tom Donohoe, headteacher of Anton Junior School in Hampshire, came up with the idea of raising funds for a new music, dance and drama room, people said he was mad. Eighteen months on and they have smashed their target of £150,000.

I started as headteacher here at Anton Junior School eight years ago and one of the ambitions that the school had when I joined was to build a facility for music, dance and drama lessons to take place.

With no money and plenty of other priorities this project was put on the back burner until 18 months ago. We had then just had our second successful Ofsted inspection and were in the right frame of mind for a new challenge. So in September 2009 we decided to embark on a year of fundraising with the aim of achieving a grand total of £150,000 in 12 months to build our studio. Initially I think people thought we were mad and as we were trying to build a Music And Dance Drama room it was quickly christened the MADD project.

Anton Junior is a two-form entry school in the town of Andover, Hampshire, which is a place with fairly large pockets of deprivation. It has been developed extensively in recent years to accommodate families overspilling from London. The town is fairly mono-cultural and although our school catchment is perceived in the town to be fairly well-off, 50 per cent of our school population come from out of catchment and we therefore have quite a mixed bag.

At the start of the autumn term 2009, we discussed the idea of the MADD room with staff and governors to ensure that they were fully on board. At each of our four “year group parents meetings”, that we hold at the start of each academic year, we spoke about the initiative and distributed forms asking parents to suggest any potential sources of income that they could think of. We also asked for their thoughts on what we were trying to achieve and any contact details that they thought would be useful for us to have.

Below I have gone into a bit more detail about some of the more successful projects and outlined what I think we learnt from each one.

Parents vs staff football event

For our first fundraising event we negotiated with the town football club, Andover FC, to have free use of their stadium on a Friday night. We publicised the event to parents and asked them to complete “sealed bids” for them and/or their child to secure a place in (a) an infants match, (b) a junior match and (c) a parents vs staff match. At first the response was a little slow, but with a bit of gentle persuasion, bids started to roll in. We were very pleasantly surprised when we found out that the bids alone raised in excess of £800. Tickets were then sold to spectators and gate money raised a further £750. We had a raffle on the night that brought the total profit for the event to just under £2,000.

We very quickly discovered that our parents like a raffle. Raffles became a feature of all of our events. We cajoled local businesses and shops to donate prizes and often staff would find things at home to recycle as prizes too.

Fireworks extravaganza

In response to the cancellation of Andover’s annual bonfire night celebration we decided to stage our own Fireworks Extravaganza. I have to be honest and say that I was a little unsure about organising such an event in the school grounds, so I took advice from a contact who had some experience in this field. I checked out the health and safety implications with Hampshire County Council, before putting the idea to staff and governors. We decided to run with it and the event just grew bigger and bigger. One thing led to another and before we knew it we had fairground rides, two barbecues, hog roasts, floodlit play-areas, refreshments, sideshows and stalls. We were incredibly fortunate that a very supportive family donated a hog roast and a man to roast it; this alone produced nearly £1,000 in profit. We advertised the event in the local paper and on local radio, but a strategy that seemed to work even better was to send out 10 fliers with every child for them to distribute to their friends.

Nearly 2,000 people attended the display and spent money happily. Everybody commented on what a super event it was and what particularly pleased me was the fact that they all commented on what good value for money we had provided. Overall the event raised in excess of £8,000 with more than £7,000 being profit.

One thing we learnt here was to use your contacts. Our caretaker enlisted the help of 12 friends who provided excellent, friendly security for this event. Having done a superb job of ensuring everyone was safe and secure we gave them a crate of beer each and they all went home happy.

Ladies pamper evening

I was lucky during our fundraising year that several members of staff volunteered to organise particular events. One of my excellent teachers, Fiona, offered to arrange a pamper evening for our mums, aunties and grannies. Fiona absolutely worked her socks off and did well to persuade a number of local businesses who work in the beauty industry to come along and provide treatments for free. In return, they were of course able to distribute leaflets about their work in order to attract customers in the future. A stroke of genius that Fiona had was to persuade Andover College to bring up their team of beauticians and masseurs so that a good number of ladies could all be “pampered” at the same time. Parents bought tickets that entitled them to a complimentary glass of bubbly on arrival as well as their first treatment. After that any further treatments were charged quite competitively at half the going rate.

We started the evening off with a fashion show where lots of staff were coerced into modelling clothes that had been donated and were then put up for sale. The profit for the evening was £1,000 which was good, but I felt unsure whether it was a fair return for the huge amount of work Fiona put into organising the event.

Sponsored run

Right at the start of the year we had decided to hold a sponsored event as we had not organised one for five years. Being a sporty school we decided to do a sponsored run. Myself and a colleague got carried away and ended up planning a 500-mile run of our own which basically amounted to us running a marathon a day for 20 consecutive days around the south of England. We managed to get free hotel accommodation and donations of energy drinks, gels, etc. To cut a long story short we did it. It captured the imagination of the local community and several radio stations and local newspapers gave us some nice coverage. With all the sponsorship accumulated we raised just over £8,000. Running from Basingstoke back to Andover on our final day was an emotional experience. Having had 20 days away running for four or five hours each day we were exhausted, but the children staff and parents gave us a lovely reception on our return to school. It is not an experience I will repeat, but one that I will never forget.

We found that if you are asking for something, people (individuals, shops, companies or grant organisations) like to know what you have done yourself to raise funds. Be proactive and let people know what methods you are using – we found grants and donations came easier when people knew what we were doing ourselves and what we had already managed to raise.

Dads and kids night

We wanted to ensure that dads did not feel left out, so we organised an evening for fathers, grandfathers, uncles and step-dads. This was one of the easiest events we arranged and in terms of profit relative to hard work, this was one of the most lucrative. The key to the success of this event was the support of my staff; every teacher organised an activity to be going on in their classroom for the dads and kids to take part in. The activities ranged from aerobics, paper aeroplanes, Xbox 360, board games and lots more. In the hall we set up our pool, table tennis, air hockey and table football tables. We also had a bar selling wine and beer and a soft bar selling coke, juice, crisps and sweets. The evening required very little organisation beforehand and lasted from just 6pm until 8pm and a staggering profit of just under £2,000 was generated.

We made more money from the raffle at this event than at any other in our fundraising year. Obviously this event was primarily about raising money, but actually the best thing about it was seeing the kids really enjoying playing and having fun with their dads. This event has now become a regular fixture on our school calendar as the dads have insisted on it.

My advice would be to have a bar. We had a bar at every adult event and alcohol was priced cheaply, generally twice what we paid for it and half the price of a pub.

The A Word

At my favourite event of the whole year, our year 6 parents were treated to a gourmet evening of beautiful food at our first ever “A Word” event. I was really unsure of what to expect of this evening, but my fantastic deputy had a clear vision of transforming our school hall into a four-star restaurant. She certainly delivered. She recruited the help of the executive chef and several of his staff from a top local hotel. She persuaded a local supermarket to contribute hundreds of pounds worth of groceries; enough food to feed 60 people a four-course meal. All the organic vegetables were happily donated by another local supplier and she sourced crockery, cutlery, tablecloths and napkins from another hotel nearby. The chefs worked with our year 6 pupils throughout the day preparing and cooking the food. Other pupils were formally trained in service and on the night they performed this with a flourish. Drink flowed, wine was sold by the bottle and lots of new friends were made. Le Creuset donated soup bowls and desert dishes and once washed these were sold to parents who were keen to buy them; this alone made £400. It was a really magical evening and every single parent approached us at the end to thank us for a superb time.

When we sat and counted the cash at the end of the night we were overwhelmed to discover a profit of just under £2,000. Again though, seeing our pupils perform their roles so well and watching the parents view their kids with pride, was as worthwhile as the money raised. At the end of that night I lost count of how many children said they wanted to be a chef.

Smaller events

In addition to the bigger projects outlined, we also held a few smaller events. Several Anton youth club nights, film nights, cake sales and discos were held throughout the year. These were fairly straightforward to organise and supervise on the night, but still managed to raise a significant sum. We also held a football-based play scheme during the school holiday. Local football teams were persuaded to lend us fully qualified coaches at no cost so that 100 per cent of the income was profit.

For us the youth club nights were a real winner. My deputy and I manned these twice every half-term and they amassed a total of £2,000. They were easy to staff and actually quite enjoyable.

Grants & donations

Although the events detailed generated a huge amount of income, the majority of the money we raised came from grants and donations. The leadership team made it a priority for the year to research and complete as many relevant grant application forms as possible. At the end of September the leadership team here traditionally have a couple of days working off site on strategic issues. This year we decided to devote those two days to researching possible sources of income. We found around 20 grants that we felt might prove fruitful. We were able to rule some grants out straight away by looking at the eligibility criteria or by looking at projects that they had previously supported.

We also worked with our school council to write letters to all big local businesses outlining what we were trying to achieve at the school. We suggested ways in which they could help us, as well as outlining what we thought we could offer them in return. We received back many letters declining (as we expected, considering the current climate) but received a good number that were more positive. The best of these was from an insurance company who invited our pupils into their company to do a presentation. After a very successful pitch that my deputy worked on with our councillors, we were delighted to receive a fantastic contribution of £10,000 to put towards our building project.

In the spring, we continued to search and apply for grants and towards the end of term we were delighted to receive the good news that two of the biggest grants we had applied for had been successful. The first was from the Asda Foundation; we have very good links with our local store and the manager there is a terrific chap who is very supportive of our school. Between us, we worked together on the bid and were delighted to receive a massive donation of £20,000. We were obviously very excited about this outcome and the news got even better when we received notification from Hampshire County Council that our bid to Extended Services had also been approved – this was for £75,000 and we had only applied for £50,000. In addition, we received half a dozen smaller grants ranging from £1,000 to £9,000 that all helped us reach our target.

I would advise putting aside a significant amount of time for grant searching and event planning. You have to be prepared for disappointments, but to avoid them (and a lot of unnecessary work) check the eligibility criteria thoroughly at the outset.

In conclusion

At the end of the academic year we had raised around £180,000 of “new money”. We were obviously delighted with this as it exceeded our initial target and meant that we could start the ball rolling with planning our building project. I was extremely grateful to the whole school community, particularly my excellent staff, who pulled together to enable us to realise a long-held ambition of the school.

At the end of our fundraising year, we wrote to every member of staff thanking them for their support and offering them a day off as a gesture of our appreciation.

I am obviously limited for space as to how much I can say about each of the events/grants, but if there is something of particular interest feel free to contact me at

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