“HELLO, Comic Relief, how much would you like to donate?”
Volunteers at a call centre in Sheffield said that sentence 2,619 times last Friday night, taking £93,000 in pledges from viewers of the BBC charity comedy extravaganza, which raised a record of £74.3m by the time the show ended.
I joined more than 90 staff, friends and family at the Royal Mail call centre in Pond Street that usually deals with pensions and human resources queries to help take the calls. My friend Antoine Desespringalle is one of the firm’s charity champions.
This is the third year that they have taken part in the operation and have worked for both Comic Relief and Sport Relief, one of a network about 140 call centres.
Antoine and colleagues Nadine Kemp, Matthew Jackson, Tariq Hamdan, Paul Stenton and Clare Wardley masterminded the staff’s own fundraising on the day, including a quiz and bingo, that raised £566 and co-ordinated the phone operation.
On the night the team were fuelled by enthusiastic young helpers who kept everyone supplied with cake, chocolate, pizza and snacks and hot and soft drinks.
Everyone was thrilled to hear that they were judged one of the top centres in the country by Comic Relief, taking calls quickly and efficiently. People left waiting on the phone means lost money.
The call handler who did best was Kay Rollings, a manager in pay services. Her six-year-old son Archie was so proud of his mum was that he told all his friends at Abbey Lane Primary School.
Kay said: “They’ve been doing things each day and he was telling people that I was doing the phones tonight. The children took in money to spend on buns and they gave Archie what they had left to give to me to hand in. Archie also sold his Match Attax swap cards to raise some more money.”
The atmosphere on the evening was fantastic and as a rookie I was given encouragement by other members of my team, who just said relax and enjoy yourself.
The nerves disappeared after I’d successfully taken my first call. I managed to account for £1,387 and was proud to take the joint highest single donation in the centre of £500.
I spoke to people from all over the British Isles, touchingly including youngsters who had called to pledge pocket money.
Antoine’s wife Gwyneth, a teacher, was also thrilled to talk to an 80-year-old from Parson Cross who had given a small donation. It all adds up.
The calls came in thick and fast after 9pm, when most people settle down to watch and when some of the most heart-rending films about the charity’s work in Africa are shown. The film where a child recalled saying goodbye to a mother who died from Aids had some of the call team in tears when they saw it on a big screen.
The last two hours went pretty quickly and at midnight the phone lines are closed, meaning an end to a 15-hour working day for the members of the Royal Mail team who had stayed for the whole night.
Then it was time for a quick group photo and a well done speech and off home.