Loft Studios in North West London was the venue for this year’s Next Gen annual fundraising dinner. At last year’s event we raised just over £100 thousand – which included the UK government Department for International Development matching some of what we raised. The Next Gen committee are a competitive bunch, and armed with the knowledge that the government would do the same this year, we were aiming to beat the 2015 total.

Things started well: two days before the event news filtered in that we were sold out: every ticket to dinner and to the party – 500 in total – was sold out. There was even a growing waiting list.


Hortense Decaux Greets Guests

The evening opened with a drinks reception hosted by Suitcase travel and fashion magazine. Then, all 200 dinner guests were called to order and be seated by hosts for evening, Jolyon Rubenstien and Heydon Prowse – presenters of the BAFTA winning BBC TV show The Revolution Will Be Televised – and got tucked into the outstanding three course feast from Ravenous. Which we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy without all the cutlery and chairs generously donated by Casablanca.

Of course, it wasn’t just about having fun. Next Gen is about raising money for, and raising awareness of, what is happening in and around Syria. Our Committee co-chairs, Layla Yarjani and Hortense Decaux gave a talk about the situation. Look above your tables, they said, because every table has an unusual and unique number, which denotes a vital piece of information about the crisis in Syria. Table 20: a Syrian child is born a refugee every 20 minutes. Table 47 marked the percentage funding gap for Unicef’s Syria fund. Later in the evening, Lily Caprani, Deputy Executive Director of Unicef UK reminded us again why we here: 2 million children are out of school, over 5 million are displaced. It goes on and on. It’s the greatest humanitarian crisis since the war, and Unicef is one of the few organisations working inside Syria. That’s why we’re all here.


Jolyon Rubinstein as MC and Shilpa and Lily from Unicef

Jolyon and Heydon led us skilfully up to the auction, which is still being discussed by everyone present. The prizes – which included VIP tickets to an Elton John concern and Wimbledon seats – sparked a furious bidding war between attendees. Overall, the 10 lots between them raised close to £65k. The intense competition to win the prizes was all skilfully and carefully fanned by Tom Best, who is a professional auctioneer from Christie’s. It showed. If you ever have a charity auction, do contact this man. He will squeeze (in the nicest possible way) every penny available from your guests, and when they have given all they can, he will somehow get them to give more. Jolyon then asked that everyone willing to donate £50 then and there all get up on the stage. 25 people scrambled and crammed on to the tiny raised platform. Which, given DFID’s match funding scheme, meant another £2,500: enough to provide insulation and heating for 23 classrooms for the winter. On a whim, Jolyon asked if anyone would donate another £2,500 then and there, which, to everyone’s surprise (including Jolyon’s I think), someone did. She will remain nameless – but thank you.

By the time desert was finished and thank yous were said, the dinner guests rushed downstairs to join the party: already 100 had arrived. By midnight Loft Studios started to look like it does on any other Friday night – busy, noisy, fun. The only difference was Unicef staff wandering around selling raffle tickets, with some incredible prizes that people had donated: signed books, a year’s supply of popcorn, football tickets, spa trips and more.

And then came a stellar line up of some of the UK’s top musicians who’d agreed to see us through to the early hours: Everything Everything, Blonde, Maribou State, Kindness. Everything Everything came good on their promise to play a David Bowie song – Let’s Dance. And we did. As revellers finally drifted home at 3am, Pro First, our long term events partner that did all the production, stayed behind, right up until the locks were finally turned as morning approached. They made sure the entire event ran smoothly from start to the very, very end. A special thanks for them.

Over the following days, we waited for the totals to come in: from individual donations, of which there were many, (including Individuum, Allsop, Lojj) from ticket sales, that crazy auction, the raffle money, Jolyon’s stage trick, and the rest. We finally came out at just over £190k after expenses, of which £78k is matched by DfID. Almost double what we managed in 2015, and far more than we hoped for. We achieved this with an expense ratio of 10%. This means for every £1 we spent we raised £10. With this money, Unicef will be providing psychosocial assistance to children, providing clean water and water treatment infrastructure, training teachers, providing education where there are no schools, screening for malnutrition, and providing vaccines. Things we all take for granted, but won’t be in Syria without Unicef. This will make an enormous difference to thousands of people: and for that, we’d like to thank everyone who involved, either attending, organising, donating or DJ-ing. In 2016 we, and you, are a part of the millions that Unicef is reaching in Syria and the surrounding region.

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