Danny Dwyer created Bear Patrol in May 2008 and since then it has raised a phenomenal amount of money for the Sussex Beacon and other good causes in Brighton and Hove.
2008 was not a good year for Danny. In his private life he was at an all time low, feeling isolated, not knowing where he was going or where he belonged. He had recently been diagnosed with HIV and, like many newly diagnosed people, he lost his way for a while.
Danny said: “Surely I couldn’t be the only person feeling this way? I felt there was a lack of social networking and support between people in the LGBT community and something had to be done to improve this. I wanted to create a way of bringing everyone together, where there was no stigma regardless of identity, disability, sexual preference, colour, religion or HIV status.”
Bear Patrol was born. At first the group was mainly social and, as members started to join, they clearly felt a sense of being a part of something special, attending events that Bear Patrol organised and creating new friendships within the group and wider communities.
Initially fundraising was not the central focus of the group; in fact, Bear Patrol didn’t start fundraising until December 2010.
Danny said: “We began to realise that people could enjoy themselves and fundraise at the same time by sharing ideas together, creating events and utilising contacts and social skills.”
He continued: “I chose The Sussex Beacon as our main beneficiary as they helped me immensely through my early diagnosis as well as supporting many people who I know in the community who have subsequently joined the Bear Patrol group to be a part of it all and bring light into their lives.
“I probably wouldn’t be where I am today without The Sussex Beacon, which I why I am so passionate about not only fundraising for them but also doing my best through the Bear Patrol to keep awareness of their services fully in the community eye and accessible to people who would, could and do benefit from their support and services.”
Over the years Bear Patrol have organised many events for people to take part in, be a part of and enjoy, whether there is a fundraising element or not.
Members take part in the Brighton Half Marathon, they organise an annual sky dive, there are challenge events such as their climb up Mount Snowdon, an annual Hibernation Luncheon, a Christmas party, day trips to various places of interest, quarterly meet and greets for members to develop their friendships, an annual camping trip, cabaret nights in local entertainment venues, various running events, Brighton Pride and bring-and-buy sales; the list goes on and on.
In 2014 Bear Patrol received a nomination for the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. To receive the nomination at all was a huge achievement in itself but when the group was visited and interviewed by the assessors it created a huge buzz in the community and, whether they win an award or not, the fact that they have been recognised for what they have achieved is inspiring in itself. An announcement of those receiving the award will be made on the Queen’s birthday, Monday, June 8.
In 2015, Bear Patrol continues to move forward, organising social and challenge events, gatherings, day trips, weekend breaks and fundraising opportunities for everyone to enjoy, and they always welcome new members who are willing and enthusiastic about becoming part of a Community Social Network. There is no formal membership as such as everyone is welcome to join Bear Patrol and people can join in with activities when and where they want to.
As for their fundraising, the group raised a staggering £88,847.26 from January 2011 up to December 2014, and just in time for Easter they have announced they have topped the £100,000 mark, a magnificent achievement for a small community group; this just shows what can be done when people work together in the interests of the wider LGBT/HIV communities to achieve something special and realise their dreams.
Main fundraising events in 2014 included the Brighton Half Marathon, a SkyDive, the Brighton Marathon and the Hibernation Luncheon at the Old Ship Hotel.
For their next big project, Bear Patrol will be abseiling down the iconic Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth on Saturday, May 30 to raise funds for the Rainbow Fund, which provides grants to small LGBT/HIV organisations providing effective front-line services to the LGBT/HIV communities in Brighton and Hove. There are still a few places left for the bold and brave.
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