This post is dedicated to James Burke. An honourable member of Leeds University Rugby League.
When James Burke passed away on the 29th April 2017, the club was shook to its core. It was a couple of days after the AGM and with our new committee in place, it was certainly a difficult task first up to take the lead and look after the team. The senior members suggested that we all get together and drink some rum, as a celebration of James’ life, but also as a means of being together and supporting each other.
It wasn’t until a week or two had passed that the words James had said in his speech at the AGM really settled in. He had mentioned that we should be out helping the community, we are in a very privileged position at university and to be members of such a great club, that we ought to give something back. For James it was a non-negotiable. When we sat back and thought that maybe James had this planned, that the community was the last thing he wanted us to think of him, and what he wanted us to do before he left, we knew how important it was.
Well that was that then, we did not have a choice, for our teammate and our brother to demand that we give something back, that is what we had do. With that in mind, the committee decided to create a new role of charity secretary. Solely dedicated to all things charity. Knowing James as well as I did and being inspired at the time by his speech, I was honoured to take the role.
A number of people within the student’s union were contacted almost instantaneously to get the wheels in motion. Meetings were organised for the start of the new semester, ideas were imagined and the coffee’s were brewing. After the first meeting with some very special people (you know who you are) we knew that mental health was something we wanted to focus on. The James Burke Foundation was coming alive and nothing seemed more appropriate than raising funds for a charity so close to our hearts. Little did I know that the American Football club had dealt with the same thing only the year before we did. It seemed fitting to combine our resources considering we both had the same goals and ambitions. Welcome Aaron to the stage, the American Football President.
The idea of launching our own version of Movember seemed like a great idea, however as this is a trademarked brand, we would have to raise all of our funds for them if we wanted to run the campaign. Whilst what they do is incredible and admirable, we wanted to keep the foundation involved. Therefore, we decided we could facilitate those who were doing Movember by providing free shaves whilst asking for a small donation for our own charity. This went down very well as we managed to raise a lot more than we had imagined, and by calling our campaign ‘ItsOKNotToBeOK’ sent a strong message to students who came across it. Due to the success of our first attempt at anything charity related, we knew we were on to something and thus we gathered speed.
The biggest challenge was to be the varsity match vs. Leeds Beckett. It was scheduled on what would have been Burky’s birthday. If ever we wanted to go big and make a serious effort, this was going to be it. We invited Sharon ( James’ mum), Leeds Cheerleaders performed at half time, we had buckets available for donations and we had Jonathon Brown of ITV Calendar in attendance who made a short video that was shown on TV. The event had a great response and our message was getting out but most importantly, we were able to honour James and Sharon on his birthday.
Later that evening we hosted a party in the union where Aaron and I had the difficult task of making a short presentation to the 300 people in attendance (easier said than done) about what we’ve learnt about mental health, and things we thought people should know. We had a raffle full of generous donations from all sorts of places including a number of items from Leeds Rhinos Stevie Ward. Rugby League and American Football had each created cocktails for the evening to sell to the attendees (we sold more…) which the bars donated a percentage of the funds to our charity. All in all, a great success.
Having a good start, we wanted to continue with more events and fundraisers after Christmas. We were approached by the Boxing Society to host a charity boxing tournament, Rugby League vs. American Football. It wasn’t very difficult to get volunteers for this one. 200 spectators in attendance and a very exciting evening had by all.
Next up was the half marathon.. slightly harder to get volunteers. 12 of the boys (including myself) ran the 13.1 miles around Leeds, raising over 2 grand for The James Burke Foundation. Blistering hot day and a very hilly route made things that bit harder, but the feeling of accomplishment was second to none. My proudest moment of the year.
Overall a great year of fundraising from the club with the help of a few incredible people. In our minds every time was trying to make James proud of what we were doing. A few students we had never met came and chatted to us about raising awareness of mental health but most memorably, one student came up to me to say thank you for what you are doing. I didn’t know what to say, but the blessed feeling that we are doing something that might help even a small number of people to open up about their feelings and be more mindful of their mental health, makes everything worth it.
**I am still fundraising for my own year off the beer, which can be found here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/andrew-marks
In honour of James Burke, it has been a pleasure to organise events and raise money and awareness for The James Burke Foundation. To work close with Sharon and support her work with the foundation has been incredible, I hope we did her proud.