This week’s blog is not about getting inspiration for your own wedding, but will be truly inspirational nonetheless.
I discovered The Wedding Wishing Well Foundation on my travels through the wedding world. It is an amazing charity which organises weddings for terminally ill people. I interviewed Jo Robbins, the charity’s county coordinator to find out more. Before you start reading though, take a moment to grab yourself a glass of wine and a tissue, you’re going to need them!
Tell me about yourself and how you got involved with The Wedding Wishing Well Foundation.
I’m Jo and I am self-employed, running my own event & wedding planning company called Jo & Co.
I have also just become the county coordinator for The Wedding Wishing Well Foundation. My role is to support the foundation by fundraising, and also working with volunteers in my area who would like to host events to also raise funds and spread awareness.
How did TWWWF come about?
In the years leading up to the launch of The Wedding Wishing Well Foundation, Naomi Thomas had been through more than most people contend with their entire lives.
At thirty years old Naomi is a happily married mum of one and settled in the beautiful Somerset town of Wellington, with her new husband, Graham. However, one thing you wouldn’t know about Naomi if you saw her in the street is that she is living with secondary breast cancer.
Naomi often looks back over her life choices, focusing on her career decisions and admits she had not known what she wanted to do when she left school. With such a warming character, burning passion to succeed & an enjoyment for planning things, in 2005 she began working as a self-employed Wedding Planner across Devon. Life was going swimmingly, it seemed.
But, after only four years pursuing her dream career and only three months with her fiancé Graham, Naomi’s world was turned upside down as she was given the devastating news that she had Breast Cancer. She was only 26.
Naomi admitted it was a diagnosis that she never thought she would hear. ‘It was terrifying,” she says. “Your world just falls apart, especially thinking of my loved ones.’
But this news was just the beginning of a heart-breaking journey, for not only Naomi, but everyone close to her. After a gruelling series of treatments including an operation, chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy, Naomi had hoped she had beaten the disease and looked to the future with Graham.
Both were delighted when in early 2010, aged 27, Naomi discovered she was pregnant and expecting their first child. Naomi felt very lucky to be carrying a baby, especially knowing chemotherapy can more often than not affect fertility in women.
Unfortunately, this excitement soon turned to devastation as only six days after her newborn son, Devon, came into the world in September 2010, Naomi was rushed back into hospital with a serious MRSA infection. It was during this time that doctors delivered the massive blow that the cancer had spread and that her back had broken in three places due to her bones being eaten away by cancer.
Despite everything, Naomi soon had come to terms with the fact she now had incurable secondary breast cancer. Defiantly, Naomi bravely endured further treatment, only for surgeons to decide against operating on the tumour on her spine for various reasons.
Having had to cancel their wedding day, due to the financial impact cancer has on people going through it, Naomi decided to arrange a charity event in the town she grew up in, Sidmouth, Devon to lift her spirits.
Naomi’s extraordinary story soon caught the attention of local Wedding Planner, Sam Williams. Unknown to Naomi, this event was to signal the first step towards her becoming Mrs Thomas.
Through the enormous generosity of Sam, the local community and complete strangers, a dream wedding was arranged with donations from wedding suppliers on 6th June 2012. Naomi and Graham eventually tied the knot in a beautiful ceremony at St Audries Park, Somerset.
Determined to put her experiences to positive use, Naomi set about ways to help others enjoy the wedding day of their dreams. So, in early 2012, The Wedding Wishing Well Foundation was born.
Although Naomi now has to consume a concoction of hormonal drugs to force her into premature menopause and 3 weekly intravenous treatments to prolong her life as long as possible, she explains that her plans for the future of The Wedding Wishing Well Foundation are simple. Naomi said she wants ‘to spread the word about the project, continue raising funds and awareness, in turn helping more and more people in the same position as me’.
How and why did you get involved?
I came across the website whilst researching for a wedding and without reading too much I emailed Naomi to offer my services. Following from the email, Naomi and I spoke on the phone and because I hadn’t read every page on the website, it came as a shock when she told me quite bluntly that she was dying from secondary stage breast cancer. We talked about how I can lend my professional services to help in the future, however it just didn’t seem enough. I put the phone down, had a big cry, pulled myself together and read the rest of her website. I decided almost immediately that I wanted to organise a wedding fair to raise funds and awareness for such a fantastic cause. So that is how my involvement with TWWWF has begun.
Last month, the wedding fair brought together some of Bristol’s finest wedding suppliers and people were also invited to donate pre-loved wedding dresses and suits.
Despite the very cold day, after months of organising and constant tweets and plugs on Facebook it was so worth the while as over £11,000 was generated by donations and supplier services along with 124 wedding dresses!
It is fair to say that I was overwhelmed. The foundation is relevant to the industry I work in, and meeting Naomi has been amazing. She has created, in my opinion, such a fantastic and selfless foundation and I am very proud to be part of the team.
How does the foundation help people?
It helps by funding and arranging a dream wedding day for terminally ill people. Many couples have had to use their personal ‘wedding fund’ to pay for medicine and treatment so their big days are often cancelled or put on hold. When you are terminally ill this really isn’t an option. And what you need is some happiness in your life, something positive to feel good about.
How much input do the bride and groom get into their big day?
As much or as little as they wish. It’s their day!
How many weddings does TWWWF organise a year?
The foundation was only launched last year and has so far organised 3 weddings with the 4th this weekend.
How much money needs to be raised to organise a wedding?
It depends on the couple and the style of wedding they wish for, however it has to be realistic. The foundation has and continues to work hard creating their database of suppliers who will to donate their services for free or offer a reduced rate. This is absolutely fantastic and it all helps, however fundraising is so important as it is very hard to find a company who are able to offer food and drinks on a complimentary basis. Paying for these items is where a lot of TWWWF budget is taken up.
Are there any other similar charities out there?
None that we know of who organise every detail of the wedding.
Where do your donations and support come from?
The Foundation gets two types of help, those donating their time and services and those donating money. This can come from anywhere, wedding professionals giving their services for free, ex bride and grooms, people who have been touched by a terminal illness.
How can people help or get involved?
If you are a supplier, individual or business and can offer your services for free or at a reduced rate, The Wedding Wishing Well Foundation would love to hear from you.
Whatever your niche or specialism, with your help you will be supporting this inspirational organisation, be it through cake decoration, wedding dress supplies, food distribution, venue hire, stationery, floristry or car hire. Any wedding products, services or support are always welcome and the foundation continually searches for enthusiastic people to generate vital funds too; through donation, sponsorship or fundraising.
As Naomi reiterates, ‘We cannot continue with this fantastic project without the generous incoming funds, so any help is always gratefully received and very much appreciated.’
How can people put themselves forward for help?
Heart wrenching, inspirational stuff. Now dry your eyes, grab another glass of red and get planning. Life is too short to put it off until tomorrow…
All photos, excluding the first of Naomi’s wedding day, were taken by Harvi Haur – thank you.