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Thank you UK!

With apologies to our friends in the UK for this much overdue blog - but with more thanks that I can say for the most incredible few weeks of celebrating all things Animals Asia, and the selfless dedication of so many who help us tirelessly along the way. 

This June and July saw our fantastic UK office working side by side with amazing support groups and friends across the country to raise both awareness and vitally important funds. With a full schedule to tick off day by day, Jo, Iain, Gayle, Kay, Sarah, Lara, Anna and Emma began at the starting block of chaos, and worked their socks off together with fabulous friends across the country, to ensure the days and evenings went without a hitch.

With Bristol our first port of call, and the venue the most divine Cafe Kino, where friends from volunteer support groups of Mid Devon, Bath, Swindon,  Bristol and West Somerset turned out in force to hear how their faith and funding were helping our programmes in China and Vietnam. A wonderful gathering of old friends and new, and our perfect opportunity to say a huge and heartfelt thank you to you all for your loyalty and support.

The next morning it was on to London and the magnificent Coach and Horses pub - and I'm turning this part over to Kay, with nothing more to say except the sincerest thank you to our wonderfully generous host Alastair and his staff!ch1

“On Friday 24 June a group of about 30 people arrived at the Coach and Horses, the only vegetarian and vegan pub in London. Guests were ushered upstairs to the old Secret Tea Room where Jill delivered a passionate talk on the latest updates about Animals Asia's work, ending with a tribute to Jasper who died earlier this year. It was an emotive and heartfelt presentation delivered by our inspirational  leader.  


Landlord Alastair Choat had very kindly sponsored the event, treating guests to a sparkling repast with Prosecco, pots of tea, delicate vegetarian and vegan sandwiches, scones and dainty cakes. A raffle was held - which included a beautiful bear photo-book created by Sepp Hausl - and the day was rounded off with a surprise vegan cake in the shape of a bear - perfect!CAKEBOOK

We extend very warm and very sincere thanks to Alastair, his fabulous team and to Animals Asia volunteers Helen Morris and John Magner.”

Our endless thanks too to all who came along - I'm always touched and deeply grateful that you get on trains, motorways and even planes to support these programmes of progress and hope so many thousands of miles away.


Off to Surrey on Saturday 25th June, to join the most spectacular event held at the home of Sue and Jonathan Olsen, and Sue's brother Dave. 

Sue had generously stepped into the breach when our long-planned event at the Plaisterers Hall in London was suddenly cancelled after a burst water pipe flooded the venue. Not one for letting a bit of water get in the way, Sue immediately offered their most beautiful home in the stunning Surrey countryside and generously took over all the arrangements as well.OLSEN VENUE OUTSIDE

She and her team of Polly and Catherine pulled out every stop to ensure the evening was not only an unbridled success but had the most extraordinary family atmosphere with everyone kicking off their shoes and celebrating the healing and lives of animals in Asia. A beautiful "grass" moon bear glowing against the backdrop of sublime sunset, a continued loop of sensational bear pictures by celebrated photographer Maria Slough, a limitless stream of Asian and Western food, and a silent auction with prizes that could only be described as out of this world. There, just begging to be bid for, was a sensational chocolate hamper (complete with chocolate shoe!), a magnificent piece of art by world famous artist duo Olly and Suzi, and fabulous holiday destinations. 


The MC was none other than our own UK Ambassador, Peter Egan, who movingly spoke of his recent and second trip to Chengdu where he once again came face to face with his namesake, the gloriously handsome Peter Bear.Sue-Jill

Sue gave a wonderfully warm welcome to friends and guests and made everyone feel so comfortably at home.  Virginian McKenna - Founder of Born Free, UK Patron of Animals Asia, and my very special mentor and friend - also spoke passionately about our bears and their place of sanctuary today. And finally Dave Higgs delivered a touching summary of his recent trip to see our work in China and Vietnam.

Grateful thanks again to the remarkable Olsen Family Trust and their brilliant team of organisers, to their kindest and most creative friends who offered out of this world auction prizes, and to all who came along and so generously supported this most beautiful event on the night.

On Monday 27th June it was off to Huddersfield to join the fabulous Elinor Priestly and all the teachers and children at Fixby Junior School. Elinor has inspired the students about the plight of the bears for years and when we walked in to the playground we were surrounded by glowing faces and a barrage of questions from the kids all wanting to know every detail of our iconic rescued bears.

Elinor had also put together a wonderful PowerPoint presentation featuring her and her friend Julie's visit to our sanctuary in Chengdu, and the morning Assembly saw her speaking to a rapt audience who hung on to her every word. Thank you again Elinor - and to Julie for being Moonie for the morning  - and to everyone at Fixby Junior School for your passion and help over all these years! 
That afternoon saw us traveling over to the University of Leeds where a lecture room had been arranged by the very kind Louise Williams,  daughter of Fiona Aston, a long time supporter of Animals Asia and sponsor of two beautiful bears called Liberty and Hope. Friends and new supporters, including support group members from Bolton, York and Holmfirth/Huddersfield came along to hear about all of our programmes in Asia and enjoy some of the silliness of rescued bears, Tuffy, Tieu Long and friends.
The next day, Wednesday 29th June, we were in Glasgow for a presentation at the stunning and hugely popular vegetarian and vegan pub, The 13th Note, where volunteers and friends from Scotland (and Worcestershire) turned out in force to hear about campaigns they are tirelessly helping so many thousands of miles away. The atmosphere in the room was wonderful - and it was especially good to catch up for a while with everyone on a more personal level, before saying another sad goodbye to people who simply and passionately keep us keeping on.
On Saturday 2nd July we headed off to Woking in Surrey to join Surrey and Hampshire support group Chairman, Oliver Lodge, his wife Gitte, and friends for an amazing day of two events. The first was talking with friends and supporters from the Surrey and Hants group, and the second when everyone came back to kick off shoes for Oliver's spectacular Gig in the Garden annual event!  Featuring the "Rockin' Crescendos" and amazing veggie and vegan food, with a bar and fantastic auction prizes the evening that saw over 100 people attend, was superb.

Over again to Kay who brilliantly summed up the day:

GIG IN THE GARDEN AND TALK WITH JILL – held on Saturday 2 July 2016
"This event was run by Surrey and Hampshire Support Group – following the huge success of last year's 'Gig'. The idea of including the lunch with Jill came once we heard about the flooding at Plaisterers’ and that a full-on road showwas being planned. Oliver Lodge and Gitte stepped forward offering their beautiful home and garden yet again, to combine the lunch and evening of dancing.

Oliver leapt into action gathering sponsorship, making the asks and bringing friends together. The rest of the team did their bit with participation from Gary, Michelle, Aileen, Helen, Jane, Kay, Lynn and Irish John.TEAM 1 - GIG

Oliver and Gitte’s  beautiful home and garden were thrown open, the marquees shot up, chairs, bar, food and AV equipment were all in place. All was calm until  it started raining stair-rods and kept up for half an hour! The team leapt into action - getting soaked but saving the day - until finally the clouds departed, the sun returned and steam rose from the ground.


Despite the weather, about 30 visitors arrived, food was served, and Jill delivered her presentation to an enrapt audience. This was a very personal gathering, with everyone having the chance to speak individually to Jill after her talk, before the gates were opened again for the start of the gig - with 130 guests enjoying food and drink and dancing the evening away to the Rockin’ Crescendos.GIG GROUP

It was a wonderful evening enjoyed by all, and our sincere thanks go to many: firstly and especially  to Oliver and Gitte, to our sponsors Hair Mekanix Limited of West Byfleet and Bourne Valley Garden Centre of Addlestone and of course to Jill for her invaluable time. Our thanks also to all the volunteers, to those who contributed to the silent auction - especially Suzie Marsh, Richard Symonds and Brian Savill - and of course, to the guests without whom this event would not have taken place. Our sincere thanks to you all."

More great photos from the 'Gig' can be found here.

Last but definitely not least, after a week of more intimate meetings with friends and supporters it was time to move on to The Mill at Sonning where, once again, we would be joining our Ambassador Peter Egan and the iconic Rick Wakeman for an evening of brilliant music and fun.

Thankfully, Kay has summarised the evening again in the most superb overview - and I can only add that, Rick we love you and Rachel for coming on board so passionately for the bears and for so generously offering your time and talent to help them.

From Kay:

"The On-going  Journey to Freedom - on behalf of Animals Asia, with the incredible support and generosity of Rick Wakeman, Peter Egan and Sally Hughes, Director at the Mill at Sonning - is  highlighted at a wonderful evening of entertainment on Monday 11 July 2016.

It has been described by many as “the highlight of their lives in 2016” and was certainly a joyful and successful evening,  not only in terms of fundraising, but also for the wonderful  atmosphere at this unique venue.

The evening came about  via  the UK Ambassador for Animals Asia, Peter Egan, who had started his career at The Mill as its first Artistic Director over 30 years ago and has continued to maintain close links and a special friendship with the venue via Sally Hughes. Again, thanks to Peter, the ridiculously talented Rick Wakeman agreed to perform a mixture of his unique piano recitals with stories and a wit that had the audience roaring with laughter.


The Mill at Sonning as a Dinner Theatre provides the perfect venue and has an incredible family story to tell.  Back in 2005 it launched the first Hydro-Electric Scheme to be powered by the natural resources of the River Thames.  More recently it has had an upgrade on the ground floor in the bar area mixing old theatre seats, introducing the modern feel while still retaining the uniqueness of the original flour mill. The restaurant, with its low beamed ceilings is just exquisite and charming, where everyone can enjoy a delicious home-made, two-course meal. The cosy theatre with 200 seats and decent leg room(!) also provides a spacious stage area.  

The venue looked spectacular on the evening, thanks to the hard work and generosity of the staff at The Mill both in the lead up of the event and on the night. Particular thanks to Sally and her wonderful, friendly and efficient  team - especially to David Vass and Vanessa and many other unsung heroes.  

The evening began with guests being welcomed, served with drinks and food and given the opportunity to buy raffle tickets. By 8.15pm everyone was seated in the theatre where Peter, having taken time off from his hectic acting schedule (he is currently performing in a production of Young Chekov at the National Theatre in London) introduced his long term friend and the very talented Rick Wakeman, a man with an enormous heart.Peter-Rick

The theatre lit up as Rick recounted many an amusing tale. His wit and speed of words captured the audience completely as he bounced from standing to seating at the piano where he gave a master class on piano playing.   With his wildly-differing pieces, he quite simply showed why he is so justly acclaimed as one of the world’s greatest pianist/key boardists and composers. He displayed a wonderful natural sense of humour not only with the spoken word but also through his fingers on the piano. Rick entertained the audience for over one and a half hours, leaving jaws dropping and tears of laughter.  Everyone was glued to their seats until the final note was played before a truly rapturous applause.

After the interval, Peter ran the auction with Rick as his assistant - again providing a humorous element to the evening.peter-jill-rick

There are so many individuals to thank but particular mention must be made of the fabulous, generous donation from The Mill. Our thanks also to individuals who gave to the auction: Suzie Marsh, sculptor, for her gift of a large sculpture "Jasper Sleeping"; Richard Symonds, artist, for his gift of a framed painting "Jasper Time with Jasper's Paw print"; Peter Egan for his gift of a "Theatre Experience for Two at Young Chekov" to include a portion of baked beans!; Jo Kelsey for her creation of two small solid bronze bears; Rob Brown, creator of RockinRobs Cakes who donated a stunning vegan "bear" cake; Denise Burton who donated a signed, framed rugby shirt. Incredibly, as if his performance was not enough,  Rick Wakeman also donated two rare, unique DVDs and CDs . Rachel Wakeman, a gifted artist, is also generously creating paintings of our bears for three lucky recipients. Special thanks too to Richard for some superb photos of the evening and to Nicky who helped during the evening.

Presentations of thanks were made by Jill to Sally Hughes whose family made The Mill what it is today, a thriving, unique and very successful venue, to Rick Wakeman for giving his time and sharing his talent with so many, and to Peter Egan, a passionate supporter, a man with a big heart, without whom this event would never have taken place.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts."


And lastly the one I couldn't stay for, as nearly a month already in the UK was seeing a distinct yearning for returning to our sanctuaries in China and Vietnam, but with never-ending thanks to Cheryl and Jules Burns and everyone mentioned below for what was obviously a sensational evening of Jazz, Bubbly and Bites! Thank you again to Kay for her superb summary of an even more superb time:

"Jazz, Bubbly and Bites was a magical evening of soul, jazz and blues in beautiful surroundings with flowing bubbly.

On Sunday 24 July a group of 60 people gathered in the stunning home of Cheryl and Jules Burns. It was a warm balmy summer’s evening where the evening started with drinks and nibbles being served, followed by a chance to enjoy the hidden Italian-style garden.

Peter Egan, Animals Asia UK Ambassador,  opened the evening with a special personal message from Jill as well as briefly summarising the success stories of Animals Asia.jazz group

The guests were led indoors to listen to the combination of musical talent supplied  by John Etheridge  - internationally renowned guitar legend – and  Vimala Rowe, a dynamic and soulful singer. They gave a moving performance with a mixture of blues, soul and jazz with a repertoire that touched and drew on their experiences during their travels around the world. One minute, one was transported to the Americas and then over to Africa and beyond.john-vimala

They met one day while walking on Hampstead Heath, following which John invited Vimala to sing at one of his solo shows. The rest is history. Such is their success that they have a new CD out called “Out of the Sky”, from which they sang some of the tracks. By the end of the evening the audience was joining in and thoroughly enjoying themselves.

None of this could have happened without the kindness and generosity of Jules and Cheryl Burns who opened up their beautiful home in Hampstead, London. They also generously supplied the fantastic array of food and wine which was greatly appreciated by everyone. angela and martin

Angela and Martin Humphery came up with idea following last year’s successful event, and have worked tirelessly behind the scenes especially on the marketing side, gathering in donations and contributions. There are also many unsung heroes who helped on the night – those who helped prepare the food, serve the drinks, wash up, sell raffle tickets and provided raffle prizes. We thank you all.

But special and very sincere thanks go especially to Cheryl and Jules Burns, Angela and Martin Humphery, John Etheridge and Vimala Rowe, and Animals Asia Ambassador Peter Egan, for providing a joyous and wonderful evening for everyone concerned."


And finally again, throughout every presentation, the biggest applause goes to every single person who is mentioned above, or who has joined and supported these events. With a sensational amount of over £60,000 raised throughout these weeks, every step forward through incredibly tough times is because of friends like you. Simply, this is our opportunity to stress, time and time again, how far we have come because of the loyalty and sheer hard work of you all.  

As individual animals are healed, as environments and lives are improved, and as more and more people in China and Vietnam are inspired to carry this work on, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for being with us on this long, difficult and immensely satisfying journey.........until the cruelty ends.

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