Virtual Christmas fair started by mum raises thousands for the Royal Lancaster Infirmary

A mum of two who owes her life to the NHS started a ‘virtual Christmas Fair’ on Facebook that has become so popular it is helping more than 150 small businesses and has raised thousands for the Royal Lancaster Infirmary.

Wednesday, 11th November 2020, 3:44 pm
Louise Phillips who now works for the NHS as a secretary at Westmorland General Hospital is pictured with her husband, Pat, son Bradley and baby daughter, Molly.

Louise Phillips, 38, from Kendal, had the idea to set up a charitable Christmas Fair on Facebook, where stallholders donate to the NHS to take part.

The group took off with interest from small businesses and crafters from all over Cumbria.#

Almost a month later, word has spread and more than 150 small businesses from right around the UK have signed up; each pledging £10 to the NHS and many donating a percentage of sales back too.

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Louise said: “I am completely blown away by how this has taken off. We now have 4,000 members who are busily shopping local and shopping small, to keep stallholders busy and in business this Christmas. We have raised £2000 for the NHS already and the total is rising daily.

“I have been inundated with amazing messages from the small businesses taking part – some have lost their day-to-day jobs due to Covid and are turning to craft fair like ours to focus on something positive and to provide for their families. One of our stallholders has made more sales in two weeks during our fair than he has in 12 years! I’m just delighted.”

Louise has been on a fundraising mission since she had her son, Bradley, five years ago. Sadly, shortly after his birth, Louise and Bradley both ended up gravely ill - Louise contracting bacterial meningitis and Bradley suffering from sepsis.

Thanks to the ‘exemplary care’ they received at Royal Lancaster Infirmary, both recovered well - but the NHS came to the family’s rescue once again two years later, when after a family holiday, Bradley wasn’t his usual self and a trip to hospital for a check-up ended up with him on a life support machine.

“They saved us – twice!” Louise said. “I owe everything to the NHS and as soon as I was strong enough, I decided I needed to try and do something to give something back. By the end of 2018, my family and I had raised £14,500 – equating to just over £1000 a day that Bradley and I spent on Neonatal. I didn’t think anything would top that – but it looks like we will be able to add thousands to that total by Christmas!”

Selling a wide range of items including Christmas decorations, handcrafted jewellery, advent calendars and clothing, some of the energised stallholders are getting creative and are partnering up to deliver the perfect Christmas present ‘packages’.

Lin Dean from Heysham runs ‘BytheBay’, a business that sells items made of local driftwood. She said: “I cannot thank Louise enough for all her hard work which is not only raising thousands for the NHS, but has also given a lifeline to lots of small businesses – including mine. We have all been hit hard by Covid-19. Craft fairs have been non-existent this year and I personally resigned myself to a very sorry end to the year. But signing up to this wonderful virtual fair has not only given me the best Christmas sales since starting my business six years ago, it has also enabled me to make a contribution to a very worthwhile cause.”

Geoff Hall lives in Garstang and turned his hobby of woodturning into a small business when he retired due to ill health. He said: “I use my love of woodturning to help control the effects of depression. I normally do about 10 craft fairs a year and help run a country Market in Garstang which is shutting its doors permanently this year. This fair has sent my sales rocketing and has gone a long way to help pay for my addictive hobby. I have had a website of my own for a good 12 years and have made more in 2 weeks in this fair than on my website in all the time I've had it.”

The success of the fair hasn’t gone unnoticed by large businesses either.

“I’ve been in discussions with one big employer who, in place of a Christmas party this year, is looking for goodie bags for almost 180 employees,” Louise continued.

“They were keen to support small businesses who may be struggling and the virtual fair has helped them find exactly what they’re looking for. They’re in discussions with individual stallholders now but, combined, this order could mean thousands – and will mean the world to so many people who are putting their love and care into every item they make.”

The Virtual Fair will run up until December 21 2020. You can visit the fair by searching for ‘Virtual Christmas Fair – NHS Fundraiser’ on Facebook or via Louise’s Facebook page @RLISpecialCareBabies