A dedicated fundraising year exceeds all expectations

Key summary

The PSA coordinated a dedicated fundraising year, which they called 'The Sparkle Project', and which exceeded all expectations, enabling the school to fund substantial repairs.

The challenge

Knockevin is a special school which provides a secure learning environment where the children feel safe. After funding cuts, the principal was upset that they would not be able to make much-needed repairs to essential facilities. That’s when the Parent Staff Association (PSA) took matters into their own hands and embarked on an extraordinary year of fundraising.

Setting the target

While the PSA has been operating at Knockevin for some time, it’s only been more recently that they have formalised a structure – adopting a model constitution and registering as a charity. That helped them to raise the level of their ambitions, but their target of paying for refurbished sensory rooms and repairs to the swimming pool required funds well in excess of their previous annual totals. Nevertheless, they set themselves the aspirational target of £50k.

Making it happen

A teacher at Knockevin came up with the idea of having a dedicated fundraising year, which they called ‘The Sparkle Project’. PSA Chair Paula Dillon explains: “People knew there was an end in sight. It allowed us to say, ‘this is for a year, and then we’ll leave you alone for a bit’.” With the challenge set, the Knockevin community pulled together to reach the target. “We had a theme and a plan. It worked well because different people took ownership of different bits. We started mapping out events throughout the year. The whole school got involved.” Knockevin PSA organised a variety of events. “We had a fun run. Asda offered us a bag pack for Christmas week, and everybody played their part. People took on their own projects too: pub quizzes, a garden party, golf days, coffee mornings, Christmas fairs, raffles in school... Parents and families picked up on it and started doing their own fundraising.” With so much activity going on, spreading the word was vital to its success, and Knockevin liaised with the local newspapers to secure a two-page feature to share their message about their aims and the events they had organised. They also worked with an external funder to help with applications for grants, which paid off with £10k from Big Lottery and £5k from True Colours Trust.

Marking their amazing achievement

The PSA marked the end of their year of hard work with a black tie event called the Sparkle Ball at the Titanic in Belfast, which saw a music teacher at the school perform with his band. As well as being a celebratory evening, it was a final opportunity to raise funds through ticket sales and raffles, and with a concerted PR effort, word spread around the local community and attendance was high. Paula and the other members of the PSA had a great time at the final event. "There were just so many people and it was a beautiful setting. Everybody loved it and the time flew by. So many people made donations. The parents and teachers were thrilled."

The results

The dedicated fundraising has seen amazing results. The PSA has now achieved its aim of paying for newly completed sensory rooms and repairs to the swimming pool. Since they raised well in excess of their original target, they also paid for a cycle track to be built at the back of the school, complete with a shed for the bicycles. Even after all that, the PSA still has a bit of money in the bank for future projects. We asked Paula to summarise how she accounts for Knockevin PSA's incredible success: "You need a team that works well together, somebody who can do paperwork and forms; someone motivating to get you going and keep the energy up; somebody to go to when you get stuck. You have to pull together." At the end of the year, the PSA members had learned plenty of new skills, forged connections within the local community and become a visible force for good within the school, improving the educational experience of all of Knockevin’s children. We’re excited to see how they build on the glittering success of The Sparkle Project.

UPDATE November 2017: We are delighted that the success of Knockevin Special School was recognised with a nomination for an Institute of Fundraising Northern Ireland award. Parentkind NI's Jayne Thompson was delighted to join Knockevin’s PSA when they were presented with their Highly Commended Award at a celebratory event. 

Emma Corry - Chair of the IOFNI Awards for 2017, comments, "The judging panel of the Institute of Fundraising Northern Ireland awards were very impressed by the nomination from Knockevin Parent Staff Association (Sparkle Project Team) for Fundraising Team of the Year.  They demonstrated great fundraising and organisation skills involving their whole community in a series of events throughout the year to raise an incredible amount of money.  The fact this was all done by a group of volunteers makes it even more impressive and they were thoroughly deserving of their highly commended team of the year 2017 award, narrowly beaten by a team of fundraisers at Chest, Heart and Stoke Northern Ireland. The Knockevin group have really demonstrated the great things that a small group of committed volunteers can achieve and are an inspiration to all fundraisers."

Congratulations to Knockevin's PSA!

"It mushroomed so much we could hardly keep up with everything that was happening. It really captured the parents’ imaginations." Paula Dillon, PSA Chair

  • Registering as a charity and adopting a model constitution enabled the PSA to raise the level of their ambitions. 
  • A dedicated fundraising year was given an umbrella name and theme - The Sparkle Project.
  • Parents, families, businesses and other schools in the community came on board.
  • Fundraising target smashed: repairs and refurbishing of essential equipment paid for. 

Fact File
  • PTA name: Knockevin Parent and Staff Association
  • School name: Knockevin Special School
  • Age range: 3-19
  • Country: Northern Ireland
  • School type: Special
  • Size: 100

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