Two medical students share their stories of fundraising during lockdown and why they think keeping vital causes at the centre of their charitable activity is important to them.
My name is Alex Whitworth and I just ran over 13 miles even though that was the last thing I wanted to do. I was tired, behind on my lectures, and all the food I had left at home was a single egg. I was not in a good mood, to say the least.
However, if I skipped my run, I would be no closer to my goal of running 300 miles. So, while my housemates remained sleeping in their beds, I headed off at dawn and ran for over two hours across the South Downs Way.
For context, I am this year’s president for Brighton and Sussex Medical School’s Raising and Giving (RAG) society. My role is to organise events and sell merchandise for medical students to raise money for a variety of charities. I joined RAG having previously been the first-year rep in our MedSoc and I enjoyed organising events. I was ready to take up more of a challenge in my second year.
Photo credit: Alex Whitworth
Over the summer last year, I was inspired by the challenges that people were doing to raise money for charity, so decided to do my own. I started running in 2016 and regularly ran a 5k park run, but since then my running has never been consistent. When I would finally get into a routine with the sport, I would quickly find excuses not to run; whether that be exam stress, society work, or placements. So, as a challenge to myself, and much-needed entertainment for my peers, I decided to run 300 miles over the 12 weeks of term one of school for Age UK.
Age UK is one of the charities struggling financially from the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and really needs our support. In a time where support for the elderly members of our society is crucial, I believe Age UK is a fantastic focus for my challenge.
What was RAG like before COVID-19?
RAG is one of the biggest societies at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) and our events are some of the most highly anticipated of the year. In previous years, RAG raised more than £8,000 per year which puts a bit of pressure on us to raise similar amounts in a very different situation. Medical students always looked forward to events such as D-RAG, G-RAG and Cabaret.
These events have been around since RAG started in BSMS and hold a special place in the hearts of students in more senior years, making the events highly anticipated by the junior years. They give medical students the opportunity to socialise with students from other years, bringing more of a community atmosphere to BSMS. Cabaret allows students to show off their talents outside medicine. D-RAG gives contestants a chance to throw out typical gender roles and at G-RAG students exchange their smart placement clothes with gold chains and ripped clothing. All in all, these events stop medicine being all about studying and gives students the chance to have a bit of fun while raising money for great causes.
The events do indeed raise an enormous amount of money for charity every year. RAG also previously sold T-shirts at the Freshers Fair and candy canes at the wonderful Winter Ball. Sadly, none of this can go ahead at the moment. Therefore, we had to get creative and think outside the box when it came to ways to raise money and have more socially distanced events.
This year, raising money for charity is the most difficult it has ever been, but also the most needed. Charities have suffered through the pandemic because we were not able to hold many of the large events that normally would have happened in person. Not only that, but the pandemic has exacerbated many of the disparities and issues that were already a problem, such as homelessness, mental health, and care of the elderly. Even less money is being raised in a time where it is most needed.
That is why we are so passionate about fundraising this year and are trying to come up with creative virtual event ideas. All of RAG’s events were previously in-person so we had to come up with completely new events essentially. It is difficult to keep people’s attention online and get engagement online, so we have had to dig deep when coming up with new ideas, including a virtual tour of Brighton for freshers, RAG merchandise, online pub quizzes, and strengthening our social media presence.
We created a virtual walking tour for new medical students at Brighton and anyone who wants a refresher on all the fun activities to do in the city. We’re raising money for The Clock Tower Sanctuary, a local charity that supports homeless young people in Brighton and Hove, by giving those that make a donation a map we’ve created alongside the walking tour.
Why is RAG important to medical students?
Giving to charity and getting involved in important issues is vital to medical student life. When we graduate, that is what our professions revolve around – helping those who are most in need. It’s easy to get lost in the academics of it all, trying to cram every last bit of information into your brain until it pops, and the actual point of it all gets lost: that we got into this to help people. RAG helps us stay connected to that core value and not lose sight of the reason we’re learning all of this, keeping these vital causes at the centre of any of the events we do. That is why RAG is a vital part of our medical school, and we hope can be a bigger part of other medical schools as well.
RAG also provides us with leadership, time management and organisation skills; great qualities for every doctor. We encourage students to become part of their RAG committee. And for those not on the RAG committee, attending the events and making donations make such a difference to the charities we support.
Your top tips for student fundraisers
It’s difficult to raise money during the pandemic. We spent months brainstorming ideas for fundraising that honoured social distancing but many simply would not work, especially when plenty of other societies are doing the same thing as yours. We found people were less inclined to spend as much money for an online event as they would do for an in-person event.
This year, raising money for charity is the most difficult it has ever been, but also the most needed.
That’s why we’ve chosen to put our efforts into selling merchandise online, including RAG hoodies, hosting online events on a donation basis only and of course, running challenges. Running 300 miles is not something expected of all RAG presidents of course, but I hope that this may inspire others to take it up and raise money and awareness to charities they feel passionate about. I have been so humbled when receiving encouraging messages and talking to my peers and knowing they have been following my progress on our Instagram page.
This year, I'm raising money for Age UK by running and have hit my running target! If you can help, I’d be grateful for any donations you could spare to support this important cause.
And don’t forget to see how you can help the charities being supported by the RAG societies at your medical school.
Alex Whitworth is the 2020/21 RAG society president at Brighton and Sussex medical school (BSMS). Alex is a second year medical student.
See more by Alex Whitworth
Ella Kollstad is the 2020/21 RAG society vice president at Brighton and Sussex medical school (BSMS). Ella is a second year medical student.
See more by Ella Kollstad