Inspirational Women Series: #5 Lee Picken
Our interview this week was with Lee Picken. Lee has been involved in so many incredible fundraising efforts over the years and raised incredible amounts of money for the most worthy causes. We have absolutely no idea how she juggles it all. Even as she was answering these questions for us this week she was in the midst of a local online charity auction.
Can you tell us about your incredible fundraising?
For me, my fundraising sort of falls into 3 categories: Simpsons Special Care Babies, where I was a trustee for several years, the higher profile events like the Auction for Kira and the several subsequent auctions and then lastly there’s the local stuff – school, community events and things like that
I’ve done lots of little bits of fundraising throughout my life, my mum was very much involved in local fundraising when I was younger, so I’ve been around it forever. The trigger for my own fundraising was my daughter being sick after she was born in 2014. She was born with a condition called Meconium Aspiration Syndrome, basically she inhaled her own poo into her lungs – lovely! She was a very sick baby, we thought we were going to lose her several times during her first couple of weeks, but thankfully after a lot of amazing medical care and 2 months in the neonatal unit at Simpsons, she pulled through and we are so lucky that she is completely fine, with no lasting side-effects, which is nothing short of a miracle really.
I suppose a few months after she was born and I started to replay everything that had happened, I was quite overwhelmed with a desire to give something back to the amazing medical team at Simpsons. Coincidentally, around this time I saw a Facebook request for people with admin skills to join the board of trustees for Simpsons Special Care Babies charity, which immediately jumped out at me as something I could do. So that was really the start of it, I joined the committee at SSCB in the summer of 2015 and it went from there. They were in a process of transition when I joined, several committee members were moving on and it quickly became clear that I had skills that they could utilise. My background was event management and although I had been out of that for a few years by the time I joined SSCB, I could immediately see that by using those skills, I could help to raise the profile of the charity and raise money at the same time, that’s when Bubbles for Babies ladies lunch began!
Bubbles for Babies is the most precious thing to me, the thing that’s closest to my heart. It didn’t ever raise the amount of money that some of the subsequent auctions etc. did, but it wasn’t just about that for me, it was about getting women with a link to Simpsons together to chat, reminisce and then raise money as a sort of by-product! I did 3 lunches in total and I had kind of hoped to keep doing them but for various reasons, I suspect that won’t happen, but never say never!
The auctions were different, I kind of fell into doing those! The first auction, the ‘Kira the Machine’ one, back in May 2018, came about after a chat on EGG Facebook page on a Saturday night with a bunch of ladies that I don’t know. I think everyone was feeling the same as I was about Kira Noble and her family, a real desire to help them reach their goal to get her medical treatment that would potentially save her life. It wasn’t a huge stretch for me to put myself in Kira’s mum’s shoes and know that if she was my child, I’d be doing exactly what Aud Noble was doing, which was trying to move heaven and earth to help her wee girl. I can feel tears coming into my eyes as I’m writing this, even 3 years down the line, their story really affected me. The EGG chat was basically along the lines of how could we, a bunch of local women, do something significant to help. Many of us had small businesses and it wanted to do something to help the fundraising, but couldn’t quite see the best way to achieve that and that’s when the auction idea came to me – probably fuelled by wine, as my best ideas often are!
It moved so quickly after that, it had to really because Kira’s family were up against a very short deadline – I think they had to have reached their target by 2 weeks from the date of that first EGG chat. So I posted on EGG immediately, the fabulous Kylie Reid, who runs EGG, was on holiday at the time and so I was a bit naughty and decided to go for forgiveness rather than permission and within a couple of hours of posting – at 9pm – I had well over a hundred offers of auction prizes, by the time the auction started, a whole 3 days later, it was 200+! From there it was a bit of a juggernaut and by the following Saturday we had raised just short of £25K, which just blew me away to be honest. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t get a total buzz from the auctions, the way the money just piles in for the charity is equally exciting and humbling, they’re a lot of fun to do and also a fantastic way to make money for charity quickly. However, I really need to big up EGG here, I couldn’t have done it without Kylie and the fabulous EGG community, they were fundamental to making all 3 of the auctions work and they really did work, the EGG auctions have raised around £60K to date.
How did you end up becoming a fundraising ‘goddess’?
I think I might have lumped this in with the last question!
What is your personal story? How have you gotten to where you are today?
Chance mainly! I’ve never really known what I wanted to do with my life. I went to university in Aberdeen at 16 to study pharmacy – far too young, I hated the course and wasn’t really equipped to look after myself! I did however have the sense to realise this and switched my course to English – which is actually what I really enjoyed and was good at…..doesn’t really lend itself to a career though. After uni I fell into events management after doing some temp work for the company that run parts of The Open golf tournament and lots of other sporting events around the country. They offered me a job in London, so I went there for a couple of years and had 2 years of a pretty hedonistic lifestyle of partying, working insane hours and hob-nobbing with the rich and famous. I was basically burnt out and homesick after a couple of years, so I went back to Aberdeen (although that’s not actually where I grew up, I’m from Troon originally) and settled into a much gentler events career in weddings and corporate functions! I can honestly say that I loved my events career, but it’s a young person’s game and once I was heading towards my thirties, I no longer wanted to work until 3am every Friday and Saturday or have to say no to my own family and friends’ weddings and parties because I was working. So, I took a bit of time out, got married and did some temping to try and figure out my next move – randomly I ended up working in universities, first at Robert Gordons then at Aberdeen uni. I also loved these jobs, they were both really social environments, similar to events in a way and I made several friends that I’m still in touch with today.
In 2012 my son was born and I decided that I was going to step back from work and stay at home with him for a while and then in 2013 we decided to move from Aberdeen to Edinburgh, which is where my husband grew up. I was really surprised to find that I hated living here for the first couple of years, I missed Aberdeen and my friends up there so much. I do have really close friends in Edinburgh, but they’re not very local, they live in East and Midlothian, so it wasn’t all that simple to meet up regularly. After my daughter was born in late 2014 and my son started playgroup then nursery, I started to settle and made more ‘mum’ friends. Lots of these friends are still my local support network today and I couldn’t be more grateful for them or to them, especially over the last year.
What do you love most about your job(s)?
I’d never really been much of a baker until my children were born and I had some weird desire to bake their birthday cakes! After some pretty ropey attempts, I realised that it was actually something I was quite good at and so for a couple of years I made practice cakes for my family and friends. Then in 2017 I decided to take the plunge and launch my own business, Juniper Bakes – it was a bit odd, I’d never seen myself as someone who would like to be their own boss, but it seemed like a no-brainer, getting paid for something I really enjoy and being able to work it around the kids. That turned out not to be the case though, running my own business full-time was really lonely and my daughter was still only 3, so she was around most of the day, which meant a lot of late night baking and decorating. So a few months later I decided to go back to work part-time and run my business part-time. I was really lucky that I got the first job I’d applied for in more than 10 years, at Heriot-Watt – everything about it is ideal – it’s local, I work with a great group of women and I leave my job at the gate, so no working late or thinking about work at home. Then I get to pick and choose how much work I take on with Juniper Bakes, which keeps it enjoyable and I don’t mind the antisocial aspect of it because I’m getting my adult chat at work…..in normal circumstances!
Can you tell us about your life achievements to date?
I’ve got to a stage now in my life where I’m really comfortable with myself and what I’ve achieved. That hasn’t always been the case, there have definitely been points in my life where I’ve felt that I was a bit adrift and I couldn’t really pinpoint why. I probably still can’t, but I’m much more focussed on the positives now; my kids, my business and all of the volunteer stuff are my biggest achievements. I’m also conscious that I’ve achieved none of this alone, I have a really supportive husband and amazing family and friends – I’m a very lucky lady!
How do you celebrate your wins?
I don’t know if I do really, maybe it’s something that I should do more of. Generally I’m just really relieved if something has worked out well!
How do you deal with the losses?
Badly is the honest answer! I’m generally a pretty positive person but I have been disappointed in the past with charity things that haven’t paid off the way I would have liked. The first Bubbles for Babies lunch ‘only’ made about £8000 and I was so focussed on that, that I forgot to see what a lovely event it was and didn’t appreciate how much of a building block it was for the events to follow it. I’m fortunate that I haven’t experienced many losses really, but I do need to look at the bigger picture sometimes.
How do you balance work and life responsibilities?
The short answer is not very well! I have very bad time management skills and I’m constantly late, which must be so frustrating for my family and friends. A scientist at Aberdeen uni once told me that there was potentially a neurological condition that makes some people late all the time – I cling to that, even though it was probably disproved years ago!
It’s a juggle though, I am trying to be more organised, but I mostly cope with muddling through and lowering my standards!
How are you coping with lockdown?
Actually, ok for the most part. There are things I miss obviously – my mum and the rest of my family over in Troon. I’ve never gone more than 6 months without seeing my mum in 42 years, so that’s been hard – it’s hard to see how much she misses the kids too.
I’ve taken lots of positives though. Usually my husband works in Glasgow, so we never have weekday dinner as a family, but he’s been at home the whole time, so we have lovely meals (and the usual frustrating meals) with the kids every night.
Some days are better than others, I think!
How do you motivate yourself - whether that is the during really tough day, juggling work or just having to cook a meal at the end of a long lockdown day? What are your coping strategies?
I don’t really have strategies. My husband is very good at working out if I’m having bad day and he’ll just take over and sort the kids out or whatever. I’ve also tried to stop putting so much pressure on myself, my work are very supportive, so I’ve learned just to say no to meetings that collide with school run times or whatever. It’s also perfectly acceptable to call our lovely local restaurant to make dinner when it’s just one thing too many!
The best motivation for me is not to be so hard on myself – It’s ok just to get through these weird times, if I haven’t made a banana loaf or taken the kids up the Pentlands, that’s ok!
Which incredible women have inspired you and why?
As I get older, my mum becomes more and more of an inspiration. She’s had a pretty tough life: she had open heart surgery at 13 and was told that she wouldn’t live to old age and would never have children. She was then in an abusive marriage to an alcoholic husband, that she was brave enough to walk away from, but in doing so it left her alone with 2 kids, no qualifications and no money by the time she was 30, I can’t even imagine what that was like for her. We were properly poor, my mum worked 2 or sometimes 3 jobs, my sister and I used to get excited over a ‘soup and pudding’ dinner, but it was only when I was older that I realised that it was all my mum could afford, there was no money for a main course. I know now that she used to go without food so that we were always fed or so that she had money to pay the bills. Despite all of this, my mum had big ambitions for her kids. She was so focussed on us not ever ending up in the same situation and we owe her more than we can ever repay. It’s such a joy to see her with her grandchildren, she recently retired and can now just enjoy spending time with her family.
From a charity perspective, the women who inspire me are those who are raising money or campaigning (or both), despite overwhelming loss and grief or with debilitating illnesses. After the Kira auction I was nominated for a local award for fundraising, I didn’t win but the award was won by a girl called Joanna Lamb. I think she was maybe 18 and had lost her leg to cancer. I started following her fundraising page on social media and she literally fundraised until the day she died, less than a year after that award ceremony. It was heart breaking, humbling, but also inspiring.
I don’t want to end on a sad note like that, so the last women who inspire me are those who are out in their communities day in, day out, working so hard to make other people’s lives better. As I’m writing this, I’m also in the middle of running an online auction for a community group in my local area, which has been set up by a fantastic local lady and her amazing and unbelievably hard-working band of helpers. They’re buying food parcels every week for families who are struggling at the moment, some weeks in excess of 50 families. It’s a huge undertaking, both logistically and financially – it’s incredibly inspiring and I suspect that in the future my focus will be a local one.