The guest blog comes courtesy of Dave Stott, founder of Hooked for Heroes.
"Without the angling community pulling together there wouldn’t be a Hooked For Heroes, and Help For Heroes wouldn’t have had as much money donated to them."
Firstly, I’d like to thanks John Ellis at the Trust for contacting me and asking if I’d like to write a guest blog about the work of Hooked for Heroes. I have to admit that I’ve never actually written one before but it was an opportunity too good to miss.
Around 9 years ago, the company I work for (Topps Tiles) became the first corporate sponsor of the newly formed charity Help For Heroes. All the branches of the Company were asked if they would raise some money. I already donated to Help For Heroes as an individual and thought it was great that the company was now backing them. I have always gone fishing from being a young lad and decided that I could tie together two things I felt strongly about in a positive way.
I decided to organise a fishing match at a local venue and invited a few friends to come along. At that first match there were just 9 anglers including myself and we raised £90 on the day. It was the first match I’d ever organised and everything went well so I decided to make it an annual event. Moving on a couple of years and two or three matches and venues under my belt, I took the decision to move to a larger venue further afield. This proved a great success with 82 anglers taking part and over £1,000 raised on the day.
It was around this point I first set up the Facebook Page, Hooked For Heroes, in order to help advertise the matches and generally raise awareness. This made an immediate and massive difference, with close to 200 followers of the page in no time at all.
Our Facebook page now has almost 4,500 followers and the number climbs every week. I also sell clothing, car stickers and wristbands through the Facebook page to boost funds.
The number of anglers fishing my matches steadily increased through the years and soon the larger, more well known venues started allowing me to book matches with them. Before I knew it, I was now organising two or three matches a year around the country and the amount of money donated to Help For Heroes was climbing rapidly. People kindly helped me out on match days and I made great (and I hope lifelong) friends with Alison Levicount-Jones and her family, Alison and her husband Pete are avid anglers, and their son, Luke, was an injured soldier so they were more than willing to help. Alison now organises an annual Midlands match and does a fantastic job.
By now, both serving and ex-military personnel were taking part in the matches along with youngsters, club anglers, open anglers and one or two 'names' in the angling world. I don’t think there are that many matches out there where a young lad, with his dad sat behind him, could be sat on the next peg to and competing with a World Champion. Top anglers often take part in the matches and also many of them ‘donate themselves’ as coaching day raffle prizes. When I say top anglers, I mean really top anglers: Bob Nudd, Tommy Pickering, Andy May, Andy Kinder, Des Shipp, Dave Swain, Emma Pickering, Andy Findlay and many more (to the ones I’ve not named, if you get to read this I apologise. You are very important to me but I couldn’t possibly list everyone and meet the word limit!)
Hooked For Heroes has never looked back and has just grown and grown. As I write this there are four matches booked for 2016.The venues are Woodlands Lakes Thirsk, Lindholme Lakes, Larford Lakes and Partridge Lakes. I often have over 100 anglers at each event, the best ever attended was at Lindholme with 188 anglers. I’m aiming for a 200 peg match one day soon.
The amount I have donated to Help For Heroes with my fundraising, both at work and by organising Hooked for Heroes is rapidly heading towards the £50,000 mark. I have visited the Help For Heroes HQ when I was invited down there by Brynn Parry (the founder) and have met and spoken to some of 'the lads' and seen what the money actually does for them. This has only driven me on to do more for them as these lads and lasses deserve the very best. If I can help them get that, I will.
Hooked For Heroes is now like a huge family with newcomers joining all the time. Many anglers are booked in for all four matches this year; not a cheap outlay when considering the cost of accommodation, fuel expenses etc. I can’t thank them enough for without the angling community pulling together there wouldn’t be a Hooked For Heroes, and Help For Heroes wouldn’t have had as much money donated to them.
When I think back to that first match with the 9 of us sat in the pouring rain, I would never, ever, in my wildest dreams had envisaged what we have achieved over the past few years It seems I have created a monster, but a monster I am more than willing to keep going.
The team undertake a diverse range of work including looking after the Trust's £40 million worth of fish stocks, managing agreements with over 250 different angling clubs and helping more people, especially youngsters, take up angling on the canal. Follow this blog to keep updated with the thoughts and work of the team.See more blogs from The fisheries & angling team