Skip to main content

Meet the dedicated volunteers who've raised £406,000 for CHSW

29 April 2024 CHSW Fundraising

It started as a small Christmas lights display at the home of Bridgwater couple Gill Brown and Stu Thorne.

But what began as a festive treat for family and friends was the catalyst for the formation of a dedicated group of volunteers all wanting to raise money for a good cause.

And whereas the Bridgwater Friends Group of Children’s Hospice South West (CHSW) may have started from humble beginnings, over the last 18 years the band of determined volunteers has raised more than £406,000 for the charity.

Gill, who founded the group and turns 80 this year, has always been a keen fundraiser.

During a spell as landlady of the White Hart in Highbridge, the diminutive powerhouse made sure the bar was always full of collecting boxes for various good causes.

“While running the pub, one of the girls I went to school with lost her son to leukaemia,” said Gill. "And that’s what set me off collecting for charity.”

Gill, a grandmother of five, met husband Stu in 1997 and the pair married and settled in Bridgwater at their three bedroomed home in Sandpiper Road.

Wanting to make Christmas special for their families, Stu set about decorating their house and garden with festive lights.

Initially the display was only for family and friends. But in its first year the couple received donations of £35 – prompting them to consider doing it for charity.

The house and garden was transformed into a festive wonderland, with Stu using a massive 72 sockets to power thousands of twinkling lights.

“We had an outdoor room,” said Gill. “So we covered it in Christmas lights and turned it into a grotto.

“Our neighbour dressed up as Father Christmas. We even had disco and a barbecue.

“It didn’t matter that it was the depths of winter.”

Word of the display quickly spread around Bridgwater with families making annual trips to the couple’s home with their children and leaving a charitable donation.

After learning about the work of Children’s Hospice South West, Gill was asked to set up a friends group to support the work of the charity.

“I was really ill with a chest infection and couldn’t make the first meeting,” said Gill.

But when Stu came back, he told me the committee had been formed and I had been voted chairwoman. It’s been my job ever since.

With formidable Gill at the helm the Friends group, which launched in 2006, quickly sprang into action, putting on an impressive programme of events over the years across the Bridgwater area from fetes, festivals to bingo nights, cream teas and jumble sales.

Bridgwater CHSW Friends Group jumble sale

It has organised fashion shows, clairvoyant nights and treasure hunts and continues to hold regular bucket and tin shaking collections across the town.

Its events have even attracted some celebrity turns. Last year’s Picnic in the Park was opened by Bridgwater born Polar athlete and explorer Rosie Stancer and included performances by two members of the legendary rock band Led Zeppelin.

The group has also built long lasting partnerships with local businesses including Howdens, Morrisons, Asda and Monkon Elm Garden Centre to name a few, bringing in tens of thousands of pounds.

Gill puts the success of the Bridgwater Friends Group down to the amazing committee and the huge support of the town’s generous community.

Gill, a former foster carer, said: We have an amazing committee and none of this would be possible without their dedication, commitment and hard work.

“Between us we organise everything.

“And we all share the same vision and determination, to raise as much money for CHSW.

“We are also very lucky that the people of Bridgwater and the surrounding area are exceptionally generous when it comes to supporting our work for the charity.”

The 20 strong committee range in age from 65 to 90 years old.

Its oldest member is Ruth Gane at 90. Ruth’s husband Jim was also on the committee before his death in February this year.

The committee also lost another stalwart member, Jackie Darch, 80, this year.

“Being part of the group has given me so much,” said Ruth.

“As well as raising money for CHSW, it has also given me the most wonderful friendships.”

Despite Gill having recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing a mastectomy and lumpectomy and now facing a course of radiotherapy, she has no intention of slowing down.

Bridgwater CHSW Friends Group hold an afternoon tea

“It’s what I do,” she laughed. “I just can’t sit still.

“I can’t see myself ever giving up.

People ask me how we’ve managed to raise so much money over the years.

“I tell them I have a fantastic committee – and a whip,” she joked.

CHSW area fundraiser Lucie Perryman said: “Gill, Stu, and the Bridgwater Friends Group have been an incredible support to the hospice over the years and we couldn’t be more grateful for everything they’ve done and continue to do.”


  • The Bridgwater Friends Group next event is an afternoon tea at Puriton Village Hall on May 28 from 2-4pm. There will be entertainment from the Weston Ukuele Players and tickets, costing £5, can be purchased from Gill on 01278 456821 or Linda on 01278 685687.