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Why I came up with my own event to support MS-UK

Andy Fiore blog pic.jpgI was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2010 and was pretty much directed to use the services of the MS Society by the NHS Neurology department. Their help was very much appreciated at the time as MS was all new for me.

Now, although I still have a lot of respect for the work and the people of the MS Society, I find that I want a more active life than their local members seemed to have. I wanted ‘To live life to the full’, which is pretty much MS-UK’s slogan - as I was about to find out.

I discovered MS-UK by chance while searching the web for more information on MS and as luck would have it, their head office just happened to be down the road at the Hythe in Colchester - another big plus in their favour from my point of view as transport could become a problem in the future.

The MS-UK premises boasts a fully-equipped wellness centre for people with MS and other neurological conditions, and I began using the specialist facilities (mainly exercise bikes) under the guidance of their wellness coach, Allan Pearson. The exercise helps prevent muscle problems that would otherwise occur with lack of use, as well as helping my brain to keep active.

Another benefit of attending the MS-UK gym is that it also promotes friendship with fellow MSers, although each person’s symptoms are unique to them.

The camaraderie with other MSers is further enhanced with regular events, coffee mornings, 10-pin bowling and other get-togethers, as well as with special opportunities, such as marathons, sponsored skydiving and aeroplane wing-walking!

There always seems to be something happening somewhere with an MS-UK logo on it as a way to raise money for the charity.

Additionally, MS-UK has a helpline staffed by fully qualified people, with direct experience of MS, offering strictly confidential on any subject over the phone.

MS-UK also hosts information sessions on different topics and invites companies and charities offering specific help on that topic, recently Age Concern and Mobility came in to offer information.

Fundraising for MS-UK’

With all this wealth of MS-related help practically on my doorstep, what’s not going to make me want to raise a few pounds to help MS-UK, which also gives me some purpose in life and is very important to me.

Up until my diagnosis with MS, I was an active bass guitarist in a few bands playing anything from Jazz to Blues to Pop. None of these bands you’ll have heard of but it was a passion of mine for over 25 years. This is what started the making of Virtuosity in aid of MS-UK.

Although I can no longer play the guitar myself, the one thing that MS will never take away from me is my passion for quality music. Promoting live music events wouldn’t be too time-constrained either, so I could take my time to set up live performances and make use of my experience and contacts in the industry.

Could this be the fundraising opportunity that I was looking for? I had to try it to find out.

In 2017, I decided to set about organising my first live music event and called it ‘Virtuosity in aid of MS-UK’ as it featured three of the best musicians that I’d ever played with: Chris Allard, Ramon Goose and Daryl Kellie. It took place at Colchester Arts Centre, whose director has a disabled daughter and therefore some empathy with the MS-UK cause. I donated all the profits to MS-UK as a thank you for their services to me in the past.

The following year, I discovered an Australian musician on social media called Geoff Achison and was pleased to find out that he had a tour of the UK lined up with some session musicians from West London that I had been fortunate enough to jam with in the past. I had no hesitation in booking Geoff Achison and the Souldiggers, with support from the very talented and once local solo blues guitarist Martin McNeill. As this was likely to be a major gig, I also got the audio-visual department at Colchester Institute involved to come and make a video of the performance, which they were pleased to do as part of their project work.

While keeping my eyes open for exciting new acts, at the beginning of 2019, I came across the incredible voice of a young lady named Helen Connelly.

‘That’s someone I’ve got to promote in another Virtuosity event’ - I thought!

The only problem was that Helen’s regular guitarist wasn’t available for the date I had in mind at Wivenhoe Bowls Club (a new local venue that I also wanted to promote) but, not to be put off, I asked my old friend and jazz guitarist Chris Allard if he would step in to help out. To complete the evening’s entertainment, I enlisted the services of Polly Haynes, a local singer/songwriter and a fantastic performer in her own right.

Lessons learned and overall satisfaction

It would be fair to say that I ran into a few problems along the way that I’ve needed help from MS-UK and others with. Everyone has to learn from their experience though, and each day with MS is a new experience to learn from.

The overall satisfaction that I’ve had from putting on these events and finally accepting the MS-UK certificate of fundraising for all my hard work has made it all well worth the effort.

Unfortunately, one of my MS symptoms was paraesthesia of the lower arms and hands, taking away the use of my fingers for manual work and stopping me playing the guitar completely. This was accompanied by other MS symptoms of chronic fatigue, poor memory and cognitive problems, which meant that whatever I did would take a lot longer to achieve than for a normal person, but I did it!

Andy raised £158.32 from his latest Virtuosity event for MS-UK – Thank you, Andy!