For our 40th anniversary this year, we have decided to have a 'Fundraiser of the Month' throughout the year. This month to kick off our celebrations, we have Marina and Friends.
Some of you may know Marina Foster, who created the charity shop Marina and Friends in Brislington, a suburb of Bristol as she and her family have supported the MPS Society for many years and is regularly featured in our magazine. As she retires this year from running her charity shop we were lucky enough to hear her memories of fundraising such a huge amount of money for the people we support.
When I log onto our Zoom call and see Marina’s kind face looking back at me, I listen eagerly to what she has to say. It’s been a busy few months here at the MPS Society and it’s so nice to be able to talk to our members about their stories and how they help us. Her passion for advocating for those with MPS, Fabry and related diseases and the need to raise awareness of these conditions was clear throughout the call.
Marina has raised a fantastic amount of £250,000 for the MPS Society over the last 20 years through her shop. Unfortunately, due to COVID, the doors to Marina and Friends closed in July earlier this year.
Marina hadn’t been to the shop since the first lockdown in March 2020. Even when restrictions eased, the shop was too tiny for social distancing. Although volunteers were able to sell goods outside sometimes when restrictions and weather allowed. Marina said: “Lockdown was awful as it meant we had to temporarily shut the shop. Then during 2021, Marina experienced a few health problems and decided she could not continue.
“I’m feeling quite sad that I had to close the shop. It wasn’t something that I wanted to do, but it was for the best” Marina says. The shop was a central hub of the community and she made sure it was welcoming. Everyone was so upset when it was closed as she had made lots of friends over the years. Marina was really moved by the cards, gifts, flowers and tributes she received when she retired.
Marina opened the shop in March 2003, eight years after her twin granddaughters Francesca and Josephine were diagnosed with MPS IIIA Sanfilippo disease in 1995. She felt like she “had to do something” after their diagnosis and “took a chance” on the shop having already done fortnightly car boot sales since 1996 which raised an incredible amount of £22,000 for research into MPS IIIA Sanfilippo disease. Sadly, both girls passed away – Francesca in 2007 and Josephine in 2009.
Marina first met Christine Lavery, our founder, shortly after Francesca and Josephine were diagnosed. Christine and Wilma Robbins, one of our trustees, visited Marina’s shop around ten years ago to celebrate the landmark of £100,000 raised there and Marina was “honoured” that they came to visit.
The shop sold a wide range of items including clothing, books, toys, household goods, jewellery and baby things. “It was a tiny shop, more like a store cupboard so it wasn’t big enough to sell furniture,” says Marina. She had six to seven volunteers at the shop and each volunteer had their set day when they would come in to help run the shop.
Marina can’t drive but walked 20 minutes to the shop most days, whatever the weather. “I used to have a trolley full of stuff that I’d push to the shop.” She was well known and much admired within the local community for her amazing commitment, resilience and friendly manner.
Marina was determined that all the proceeds, after paying the rent, went to the MPS Society for research into MPS IIIA Sanfilippo disease, led by Dr Brian Bigger. Marina dealt in cash only, and in the winter when the shop was freezing, she would encourage her volunteers to wrap up warmly as there was no heating. Marina always displayed the latest MPS Society certificate in the shop window so that volunteers, customers, donors and passers-by could keep up to date with the growing total.
As Marina had a lot of MPS Society banners and leaflets in the shop many customers used to ask her about MPS as they had never heard of it before. She would tell them about what it is, her relationship with the condition and the impact it has had on her and her family. Her customers were so moved by her story and inspired by her raising awareness and funds for us that they sometimes decided to donate to us themselves. One customer left a legacy to us in her will.
Marina’s hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed, as she was awarded an MPS Award of Excellence at our conference in Coventry in 2017. “I was so shocked to receive the award; I was shaking” Marina remembers. After receiving the award from Dr Brian Bigger and Christine Lavery, there was a standing ovation and a big crowd of people wanting to talk to her and hear her story.