When Jessica Ridge persuaded her dad Russell to dress in a gold glittery suit and become a bingo caller, it was no great surprise.
The 12-year-old had already encouraged her mum and nan to abseil down the Spinnaker Tower and her brother to dress as Mr Potato Head.
Jess’s family are used to getting up to all manner of daft and dicey things in the name of charity.
Fundraising events have been part of family life since an eight-year-old Jess decided she wanted to raise money to help others four years ago.
The Hambledon youngster and her family have organised garden parties and barbecues, a fashion show, fancy dress evenings, bingo nights (starring Russell as caller) and a sponsored abseil, bike ride and walk.
‘She can be quite persuasive, she has these big puppy eyes,’ laughs mum Lara. ‘But actually this whole thing has been great for all of us as well as the charities. It’s a sociable thing to be doing, we have a really good time we learn new things. And sometimes we’re out of our comfort zone – but that’s good too. ’
Jess and her family and friends have raised about £22,000 since 2009.
The youngster decided she wanted to do something to help when she heard about the plight of Big Brother star Jade Goody, who was dying of cancer.
She then saw a television prog-ramme about fundraising and that got her thinking.
‘I thought about it all day at school. I didn’t know why it was happening to Jade and I felt very sad for her,’ says Jess.
‘She heard it on the radio, she didn’t know anything about her but started asking all these questions,’ adds Lara. ‘And then she said she wanted to do something to help.’
The family barbecue involved all kinds of imaginative fundraising ideas, including games like hitting a rat (made from a sock) down a drainpipe.
Friends and family rallied, with nans providing strawberries and cream, aunties and uncles on coffees and teas and everyone else with an equally important job to do.
The event raised about £2,500 for Cancer Research UK and the family were thrilled. Jess’s parents also thought it might end there.
‘It took a lot of organising and a little while to get over it – and then she said she’d like to do something else,’ says Lara.
‘I have to say that time we were thinking ‘‘God have we got to do
it again’’, but in the nicest possible way. It was lovely, it was just a lot of work.’
But the family couldn’t forget how they had loved the planning and been thrilled at how much they’d raised for the charity. So the next event was soon under way.
Now they’ve enjoyed all kinds of fun occasions.
The family and their friends dressed as movie characters for a ‘Golden Globes’ night – the event that saw Jess’s older brother Marley dressed as Mr Potato Head.
A group, including Jess’s 75-year-old grandad Mike, completed a 26-mile walk from Petersfield to Portsmouth.
And then there was that abseil, which Lara, her mum Maureen and several others agreed to do.
‘Jess wanted to do it but she was too young. I didn’t know if I was going to be okay to be honest. It wasn’t something I’d thought about before. But I was pleased I did it,’ laughs Lara.
Jess and her family have set up an umbrella charity called A Touch of Magic. This means they can raise money on behalf of a different cause each year.
It was Jess who came up with the name. ‘I made up a slogan – to touch someone’s world with a touch of magic.’
The resourceful and caring 12-year-old recently won the Spirit of Youth category at The News’ We Can Do It awards for her hard work.
She says: ‘I was really pleased. It took a while to sink in that it was me. It was really nice that they recognised what I’ve been doing.’
Lara is understandably a proud mum. ‘I have to say sometimes it does catch you in the throat,’ she says.
The family make sure they find out about the charities they are raising money for and understand where their contributions are going.
Parkinson’s UK put the money towards research into the condition. A Touch of Magic also raised money for children’s charity Make-A-Wish, managing to send a very ill young lad and his family to Florida.
Jess says she loves to hear that’s she’s helped people and enjoys planning parties and events with her family. That’s why she doesn’t mind fitting it around school and dancing.
But she has plenty of people helping. Her ideas have snowballed and now people come to the Ridge family with their fundraising ideas.
A group of friends did a skydive and one of Marley’s pals shaved off his dreadlocks. Marley and his friends did a 35-mile bike ride.
And then of course there was Russell and that glittery bingo suit.
‘ I think he likes it really,’ laughs Lara. ‘He wore it again when he dressed as Frankenstein for a party. It was all ripped and he had the bolts and everything. There must be something about that suit.’
CHARITY SELECTED EACH YEAR
Each year Jess selects a charity for A Touch of Magic to support.
Organisations to have benefited in the past are Cancer Research UK, Parkinson’s UK and Make-A-Wish.
All the money raised throughout 2012 is for Naomi House children’s hospice near Winchester.
The hospice provides care for children and young people with life-limiting conditions.
The charity supports families and young adults across seven counties, including Hampshire.
It costs around £5m a year to run and the organisation only receives around 10 per cent of its funding from the Department of Health. The remaining £4.5m is raised by people and businesses across the region.
Cancer Research UK funds world-class research into all aspects of cancer, provides information and influences public policy.
Parkinson’s UK supports patients with the condition and funds research.
Make-A-Wish grants the wishes of children and young people with life-threatening illnesses.
The next A Touch of Magic event will be in support of Naomi House. The bingo session takes place at the Hampshire Rose pub in Purbrook on Sunday between 4.30pm and 7.30pm.
For information and to support A Touch of Magic, visit justgiving.com/A-Touch-of-Magic-1, facebook.com/groups/261361287207502/ or twitter.com/atouchofmagic5