15 July 2014, 16:24PM
It hardly seems so recently that I returned from presentations in the UK. Thanks to Gill, Nicky, Kay, Lara, Iain, Emma, Sarah, Fiona and all in our brilliant UK team, who worked so hard in the organisation, promotion and overseeing of the events over two productive and fun-filled weeks. It was just fabulous to see so many bear lovers and supporters of our programmes in China and Vietnam and a huge thank you to you all for helping to raise desperately needed funds for our Peace by Piece campaign - helping 130 previously farmed bears and converting their farm to a sanctuary in Nanning.
The first, and undoubtedly most high profile, event was a fantastic "Starry Night for the Moon Bears" at Gilgamesh in London's Camden Town on Thursday 19th June. It was one of those "pinch me" moments to see no less than eight of the cast from ITV's popular drama, Downton Abbey, throwing themselves into a spectacular, star-studded event to help the bears. Hosting and organising the evening was the wonderful Peter Egan (Lord Shrimpy Flintshire), who has been our UK Ambassador for over 18 months, together with the fabulous Lesley Nicol (Mrs Patmore) who has just returned from an eventful and hugely busy trip helping us in China, and has now kindly agreed to be a new UK Ambassador alongside Peter.
Joining them on the night was Sophie McSheera (Daisy), Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates), Raquel Cassidy (Miss Baxter), Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary), Lily James (Lady Rose) and Allan Leech (Mr. Branson). Their generosity in the midst of such busy schedules was astonishing as they helped to sell raffle tickets, happily posed for press pictures and "selfies" with anyone in the audience who asked, and also took to the stage to the rapt applause of supporters.
And what an incredible night it turned out to be! Generously sponsored entirely by long-time supporters Mike and Tracie Spragg, so that all funds raised could truly reach the bears, the evening was a roller coaster of emotions. Peter and Lesley moved the whole audience as they wore their hearts on their sleeves and spoke about their experiences meeting the bears in China, and their commitment to helping Animals Asia to end the bears' agony on the farms. Often reducing the audience to tears, they and all in the cast couldn't have done more for the bears we have rescued, and those to come.
Tissues were retrieved from pockets and bags for the rest of the night as the performances took us from tears to laughter, while an incredible vegetarian and vegan meal was served. There are so many wonderful people to thank for the evening, especially those who donated such astounding auction prizes, including a holiday and hotel package, a painting and sculpture, cakes and cookery classes, sports memoriabilia and entertainment - thank you to Richard and Katie Brindle, Pam Ayres, Nick Mackman, Beverley Glock, Boyes-Korkis, Jill Glazer, Virginia McKenna and Montpellier events.
Bright and early the next morning it was off with Nicky to the Forest of Dean, to a marvellous exhibition of art by long time supporter Lisa Watkins, at the Taurus Craft Centre at Lydney. The exhibition was the culmination and celebration of Lisa's love for all species of bears, and her determination to represent the plight of them all in art.
Her painting of one of our rescued bears, Quantock, was possibly the bravest piece she has ever created, considering that poor Quantock's skin, fur and the end of his nose cartilage is missing from his face. Years of stereotypic, frustrating bar rubbing on the bear farm had caused this physical trauma, yet Lisa felt his story must be told and so a perfect portrait was created of our super handsome bear. It was a wonderful afternoon meeting up with dedicated supporters and new friends, all interested to hear the development of the Peace by Piece campaign.
It was also an exciting opportunity to meet a pen pal of mine, Harry the Spaniel, who has his own Facebook and Twitter pages and a huge following of fans. Taking the adoration well in his stride Harry (and his patient "boss", Heather), smiled for the pictures as he proved himself every bit as deserving as a "pawsome ambassador" for his species.
The event ended with Lisa pulling the hugest surprise on Nicky and I, and presenting us with the original Quantock painting so that he could come back "home" with me to Chengdu. Now, indeed, writing this blog on site, I'm delighted to say that Quantock has pride of place in our canteen so that all of our staff here can enjoy his rugged good looks from a very talented supporter and friend several thousand miles away in the UK.
Meetings with supporters and the media, and time to enjoy some precious time with my sister Anne and family followed over the next few days, until it was time for another event - this time in the Liverpool area at the University Veterinary Centre; a venue kindly organised for us by Lucy Burrows who had spent some time on site with us in Chengdu as a volunteer vet nurse. She, the fabulous Sue Prince - a long-time supporter, and another wonderful Chengdu vet nurse volunteer Judy Blythe, ran themselves ragged helping with the organisation and planning of an event which again gave Gill, Nicky and I a good opportunity to update supporters face to face with all the news of Nanning.
Endless thanks to Fred Rylands too for ensuring the technical back up was sound, and enabling the powerpoint and various film clips of the bears to be shown. The atmosphere in the auditorium was wonderful - helped not least by the passionate enthusiasm of all the students in Miss Priestley's class from Fixby Junior School. No words for how much I loved meeting (and hugging) them all - and seeing them taking over the show as, wide-eyed, they presented Gill, Nicky and I with a generous cheque, posters and paintings of the bears, Loom wristbands, and, of course, a pot of honey for Jasper and friends!
That weekend saw a packed schedule which began on Saturday night when Nicky, Peter Egan and I joined long standing supporters and friends Angela and Martin Humphery, and their handsome rescued dog Percy, at their beautiful home in Hampstead. Once again, it was wonderful to catch up with all the friends and supporters they'd invited to enjoy sparkling wine and sumptuous vegetarian snacks and say hi to a very special guest, celebrity Ricky Gervais and his partner Jane Fallon. Ricky was delighted with the presentation picture of his new bear - Derek - one of the Nanning bear farm bears, now enjoying nutritious food, daily showers and tender loving care. Endless thanks to all who came along to the event, including celeb vet Marc Abraham, and again to the most amazing Angela and Martin who surprised us all with a very generous cheque for the bears at the end.
Off that night to Swindon - and one of the nicest surprises of the two weeks was the sheer generosity of the taxi driver taking me from Hampstead to Paddington who, after chatting about the bears, announced at the destination that the ride would be free of charge. Huge thanks to Greg - an astonishing and much appreciated gesture, bless your very kind heart.
The next morning it was up with the lark to take part in the Dragon Boat racing with Sarah and David Chilvers and all in the Swindon Support group. Kay in our UK office and my sister Anne, her husband Steve and their daughter Nicole had all come over too - and Nicole and I were to join the rowers competing against another 16 charity teams!
The day was enormous fun, but we may have let the very patient Shaun down as he tried, and failed, to train us before the races began. The warm up went well, with various limbering up exercises, followed by multiple instructions for sinking our paddles, and reaching out with body rather than arms. The first race was slightly shambolic, but the timing wasn't bad and we all felt that the next race would see us all perfectly tuned. When the time came, the warm up over to the starting point gave us heaps of confidence, as we powered along like a well oiled machine - all perfectly synchronised and raring to go. Sadly it all fell apart as soon as the race got under way and despite everyone shouting "one and two" and desperately plunging paddles deep in to the water, it wasn't too much of a surprise to see the competing boat surging ahead towards the finish!
The third and last race saw Nicole and I watching rather than rowing, and it was thrilling to see the Dragonboat cutting through the water from a spectator point of view. Hats off to all in the team for either rowing or running our charity stall and taking time out of their busy schedule to help the bears - our love and thanks to : Sarah, David, Kate, Janie, Maren, Richard, Kay, Suzie, Doug, Teresa, Elaine, Barry, Vicky, Shaun, Lou, Lena and Mischa, Helen, Edward, Alison, Cath, Martine, Chris and of course, Nicole! - we all had the best of times, smiling and even cheering the teams that beat us. Just brilliant to see everyone again - with thanks to our great friend and artist Richard Symonds for taking a fabulous aerial film with his copter-cam that can be seen here on Youtube.
This year has seen every staff member of Animals Asia literally run ragged as our campaigns and operations have escalated beyond all imagination. The bears waiting on the farm in Nanning are our current priority in terms of helping their welfare and raising the funds to build a sanctuary where there once was a farm.
Events like those in the UK and so many organised by good people across the world do so much more than bring financial support, but inspire current and new supporters everywhere that our work and campaigns are hurtling towards that final goal of ending bear bile farming once and for all.
My thanks to all above again, legends you are, with love from the bears in China and Vietnam, and of course all the animals across Asia who benefit from your faith and support in our work.
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