This week I attended the Big Curry Lunch at the Guildhall, the largest single fundraising event in the City of London in support of the Army Benevolent Fund also known as The Soldier’s Charity. It is the only charity that each Lord Mayor supports in succession as well as the charities he or she selects for their year. This was the ninth year of the event and to date £1.4 million has been raised for soldiers and veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. On this occasion the principal guest was His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales, who, of course, is himself a veteran of armed conflict.
As Master Marketor I have been a member of the Committee this year and indeed several of my predecessors are still serving on the Committee helping to find donors of prizes for the auction, sponsors for the provision of goods or with general marketing advice as to how best to communicate the event. The Committee has been ably chaired by Michael Hockney MBE, a consummate networker who each year drives the Committee to reach just a bit further.
ABF The Soldiers’ Charity is the Army’s National Charity, which exists to offer a lifetime of support to soldiers, veterans and their families. Established in 1944 as the Army Benevolent Fund it has helped countless people from the Army family, defining its work through the Army’s own values of courage, loyalty and selflessness.
The scope of its work is huge: half of its money is given directly to individuals to help in areas such as debt relief, mobility assistance, education and training. The other half is given as grants to other charities, who deliver specialist support on its behalf. Last year it spent more than £5million on soldiers, veterans and their families who needed its help and it gave grants to 76 charities which support veterans, touching the lives of around 70,000 people.
The Lord Mayor hosted the first annual Lord Mayor’s Big Curry Lunch in 2008. Among founder members of the Committee was Gulam Noon who put Noon Foods at the Committee’s disposal to provide the curries and dessert for the 2008 lunch and continued to do so every year thereafter. Our own Sir Paul Newall was also a founder member of the Committee having been a Trustee of ABF the Soldiers’ Charity when it was known as the Army Benevolent Fund. Sir Paul was Lord Mayor of London in 1993-1994 and was an Honorary Liveryman of the Marketors. Both of these gentlemen died last year.
This year’s Committee consisted of over 80 hardworking members helping to contribute to the planning. Members are from a range of backgrounds including banking, the law, accountancy, shipping, manufacturing, politics, the military, and, of course, marketing. They are headed up by the Co-chairmen, The Lord Mayor of London – whose support has been instrumental in the success of the event- and Michael Hockney. Other Committee members include Secretary of State for Defence, the Bishop of London, HM Lord Lieutenant for Greater London, the Dean of St Paul’s and many current Aldermen and Livery Masters.
One big feature of the fundraising is The Silent Auction where money-can’t-buy prizes are offered through hand held devices and this year, for the first time, online. Real time bid updates showed the current highest bidder and the bid value appeared on plasma screens around the Great Hall and in the Old Library creating a frisson of excitement, no doubt helped by Lanson champagne and other wines and Cobra beers. Lots included:
· Four tickets to the Patron’s Lunch – HM Queen’s 90th Birthday Celebrations in the Mall
· Behind the Scenes Tour of the Royal Hospital Chelsea followed by Lunch for Two in the Great Hall
· Private wine tasting for ten people
· Lunch and behind –the-scenes tour of Windsor Castle for six with the Governor
· A behind-the-scenes tour of the Palace of Westminster followed by lunch for two in the Peers’ Dining room before attending a sitting of the Upper House
· A pair of Wimbledon Centre Court Debenture tickets for Tuesday 28th June 2016
· Opportunity to open Tower Bridge, with Champagne for 12
· Opportunity to attend Royal Salute for His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh’s Birthday
· Four day Battlefields Tour for two
· Tour of the Mansion House and Tea for Six
· A behind-the-scenes tour of St Paul’s Cathedral and lunch with the Dean for six
· Two places in the worshipful Company of Woolmen’s sheep drive
· Two days fishing on the River Mourne for two rods, with a 2 night stay on the Colebrooke Estate
· A Sweet Chestnut Sapling from the grounds of Hougoumont, at the Battle of Waterloo
· Dinner for four with wine at The Ritz Club
· Royal Treatment at Royal Palm Marrakech
· Trip for two to the Diamond Stock Exchange, Antwerp
· Tour of the Gunmakers’ Proof House, with champagne reception and lunch for two
· Gun Salute at HM Tower of London and lunch for two at Armoury House
· A shoot for eight guns at the renowned Castle Rising Estate, named as one of the top partridge shoots in the UK (not normally available to the public). This one went for £15,250.
Some of the Livery Companies excelled themselves too. The Gardeners always put on a good show and this year took as their theme the centenary anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. It was somewhat sombre to see the barbed wire peeping out from the plants and a useful cause for reflection. The Fruiterers made up wonderful baskets of fruit for sale while the Musicians provided a brass ensemble playing at the Lunch drawn from Yeomen of their Company.
Although final figures are not yet in it looks likely that a new record was set this year. It raised £162,000 in 2015 and we were aiming to raise £178,000 this year. Certainly records were set for attendance, sponsorship and I think the auction. There is a reception for the Committee and their partners in a few weeks when we will find out.