‘It was really important to support a cause we had a personal connection to’

DUCFS exec team Emily Odi and Soo

In June 2021, the Durham University Charity Fashion Show (DUCFS) raised £55,000 to support our work through three fashion shows and a host of other activity.

Here we chat to the 2020/21 DUCFS president, Emily Kirkby (pictured left, with her vice-presidents Odi and Soo), about the challenges of organising an enormous fundraising event during a pandemic, and why they chose to support Create.

Can you explain what DUCFS is and what your role is?

DUCFS is an award-winning, student-led charitable platform that aims to raise awareness around societal issues. The main way we fundraise is through a fashion show. A lot of what we do is celebrating designers and artists, while also trying to raise money for whatever topic we pick for the year. It’s a student-led organisation, so people are doing it on the side of their degrees in Durham. In normal, non-coronavirus years, we also do networking and social events.

My role this year was president. I was leading a team of 30 exec members and 42 models – but I had Odi and Soo, the vice-presidents, as well. As much as I can say I was president, we were three presidents.

Why did you choose Create as the beneficiary of the fashion show this year?

DUCFS fashion show copyright Toby HilleryWhat was really important for us was supporting a cause we had a personal connection to, that we could really get behind. If everyone can get behind a cause, it makes the fundraising even more worthwhile and meaningful. We’re a creative platform, and so are Create, so it’s bringing together two creative platforms from very different sectors. It was a perfect marriage.

Also, in the midst of coronavirus, charities like Create are so important. Coronavirus impacted mental health. It thwarted funding for the arts. It put a spanner in the works for all forms of communities and people whose livelihoods rely on meeting up with people outside their family circles. So I was looking for a creative charity that I could really get behind. I’ve been lucky enough to have access to the arts, and I also appreciate what the arts do for my mental health. But also, the lengths you went to, to make sure that people were helped throughout coronavirus. It was a no brainer for me. I look at Create’s work and it’s incredible what you guys do. It is transformative.

How did you cope with the constant threat of the fashion show being cancelled because of the pandemic?

I don’t think I coped the whole time, there were moments of mild panic. But we are such a big team that every time I was having doubts about something, or the Government came out with new restrictions, we would get on these huge team calls, and I coped by getting other people’s words of wisdom. As a team, we kept each other going.

Was there a moment when you thought: ‘This isn’t going to happen’?

There was one moment in the Easter holidays, quite close to the show. We had to call a team meeting and hold a vote of confidence. We had had some negative news from the university, and the show didn’t look feasible. We were going to be making negative £500 or something. But we got the team support. So at that point, we went: ‘Right, we’re going to do it.’

Even in the morning of our first show I was like: ‘It’s not going to happen. It’s not.’ But we got to the venue and everything fell into place so well, and everyone knew what they were doing. And all of us stood back after the first show and went: ‘How did we do that?’

‘It was a no brainer for me. I look at Create’s work and it’s incredible. It is transformative.’

Emily Kirkby, DUCFS

How did you raise money during the event and beforehand?

DUCFS fashion show copyright Toby HilleryFundraising this year was a little different to normal. Normally, we would rely on things like social events, club nights, networking events. But obviously, we had to be quick on our feet and get thinking. At the beginning of the year we did online talks from industry experts, and that raised a bit of money. Then during the Christmas holidays, we had our CRE8IN8-inspired fundraiser: we had various teams doing lots of funny tasks. I tried to walk a half-marathon and ‘write’ the word Create on my Strava map.

We have show sponsorship going on throughout, financial sponsors, and then we also have product sponsors: at the shows their products were on the tables, and that would be included in the ticket price. Our ticket sales have always been our main source of income. Then on the show nights, we have the raffle and the auction. You have people bidding a ridiculous amount of money for a lot of exciting prizes. Some of the raffle prizes were a year’s supply of Creme Eggs, a magnum of Prosecco, stuff like that. And then the auction prizes included four tickets to see England vs Australia at Twickenham, tickets to Henley next year, trips away to holiday homes in Devon for a week, lots of signed rugby shorts and football shirts. It was amazing.

How do you feel about the money that you’ve raised and the impact it can potentially have for Create?

I’m immensely proud. In hindsight, any money we raised was going to be impressive from a fundraising-during-coronavirus standpoint. So being able to announce £55,000 was amazing. When we put it into perspective of what that money can do from Create’s standpoint, how many projects it will be able to fund, it just makes it feel even more worthwhile.

‘Keeping it simple and keeping it personal makes the people who are fundraising more motivated and energised.’

Emily Kirkby, DUCFS

How was it working with the Create team?

I actually can’t put into words how grateful we’ve been for just how great the working relationship has been between us, from the word go. It’s been so great. I have raved about working with you guys, to everyone. Every time we came off a call with you, we felt even more motivated to keep going. What was really important for us was to build a really good relationship with whatever charity we chose. And that’s exactly what we’ve done.

If you were going to give one tip to somebody who’s thinking about running a fundraising event, what would it be?

Don’t do it during coronavirus! Keeping it simple is probably the best tip. Keeping it simple and keeping it personal makes the people who are fundraising more motivated and energised. As soon as people feel like they have ownership of what they’re doing they are more engaged with it, and they actually want to do it.

How are you feeling now you look back on the whole year?

It was my life for a year-and-a-half. It did over-consume us at points. It was this massive high, this huge thing, and what we’ve been building up for so long. And then suddenly it finished. And it’s sort of that intense high to the intense low, because you’re just like, ‘Oh, I miss it. And I want to do it all over again.’ It was an amazing experience.

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