Our Heroes: CHUMS 

It all started back in 1990 when Betty Grant asked her son-in-law Ray Graves to organise a fundraising event for Saint Francis Hospice in recognition of the help it had given the family.    

"We held a ball at Manor Hall in Chigwell and it was such a great success that Ray had an idea and wanted to develop it," said his wife Pat Graves, who lives in Romford.    

This was the start of Ray's trademark saying "I've got an idea..." and lead to the father-of-four getting together with his close friends Bill Lintott, Geoff Pike and Ian Alexander to form the CHUMS organisation, which was set up to continue raising money for the charity.                                                                                           And while the CHUMS have raised an incredible amount of money, having fun is at the heart of everything they do and over the years they have been ensuring guests do not just have a night to remember, but a whole weekend of unforgettable entertainment.   

"We want people to come and enjoy themselves and we provide the platform for people to turn up and raise money," said Geoff.    

"We have all been to business events as guests and they can be boring and you can feel pressured into giving money, but at a CHUMS do, even after the event people stay on and continue to have fun."   

There is no doubt that the CHUMS, together with their wives and a dedicated team of extended family and friends, work hard to pull out all the stops.    

But as they look back at what they've achieved over the years, memories come flooding back and there is a lot of laughter.                                                                                               
"Every year we think something won't work but in the end it does work," said Pat.       Events are all based around themes. These have included Harry Potter, which featured dinner tables set out like Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, three magicians and where even an owl made an appearance.    

Another spectacular example is the Titanic where the hall was decked out like the luxurious liner and the CHUMS dressed up as captains and sat in a rowing boat on the dance floor with dry ice going over it to give a misty effect.      

And guests are not just invited to come along, sit back and enjoy the show; it is very much an interactive experience where they become part of the entertainment.    

The fun typically begins on a Friday night with a quiz. Then on a Saturday morning guests are split into groups to learn dance routines based on the weekend's theme such as Irish dancing, Turkish rock and Michael Jackson's Thriller.     

They then take part in a dance-off later that evening.    

"One year we did the 12 days of Christmas at an Irish Hogmanay evening and every table had to stand up and sing part of the song," said Pat.      And an event was not complete without a surprise, which Ray would plan without telling his fellow CHUMS, "and that is a hard act to follow", said Ian.                                                                                        Guests on their feet at The Great Fatsby     A host of celebrities have supported the exciting weekends over the years including John Challis and Susan Holderness (Only Fools and Horses), John Bardon and Richard Driscoll (EastEnders), Glen Murphy (London's Burning) and Tommy Walsh (Ground Force).    Football stars Gianfranco Zola, Sir Trevor Booking, Dennis Wise, Gus Poyet, Phil Parkes and Frank McAvennie, John Lyall, Paul Goddard and Paul Parker have also joined in the fun.    Geoff and his fellow CHUMS, who have been friends for 40 years, are also proud that their children have been inspired to set up a Young CHUMS group, which has already raised £5,728 for the hospice.    In 2015 CHUMS held their latest fundraising weekend The Great Fatsby, which was themed around the 1920s novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald and was so called because Ray was known as "Fat Ray."    It was particularly poignant as Ray died unexpectedly in 2014 and it was the first event without him and while it was "bitter-sweet" they ensured guests went away looking forward to their next weekend.      "Ray would be sorry if it all stopped and I think we will be carrying on," said Pat.    And as I ask about their next event, ideas are already being bounded about. And this is how it all starts!    Geoff and Pauline Pike, Pat Graves, Bill and Jayne, Georgina and Ian Alexander