Becom­ing the bee, with Jean Bishop

Meet Jean, a 91-year-old from Hull with a pas­sion for fundrais­ing, a smile for every­one she meets and a bril­liant home­made bee cos­tume. Jean’s sto­ry was shared at I Wish I’d Thought Of That (IWITOT) 2016 and sub­se­quent­ly won the audi­ence vote.

Written by
Alfie Waldron
February 16, 2017
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Jean jumped at the chance to raise money for Age UK

The first time Jean tottered up to the doors of her local Age UK centre she probably felt quite nervous. She’d come to the centre to join a weekly knit and natter group but, really, she’d came to make friends.

You see, Jean’s husband had recently passed away and ever since she’d been feeling very lonely and isolated. So, when she heard about a group of like-minded women who met every Wednesday to chat and knit, she decided to step out of her comfort zone and join them.

Jean needn’t have been so worried – she settled into the group in no time and became a regular character around the centre. And when the Age UK team asked Jean if she’d help them raise some funds to support their work she jumped at the chance.

‘They call me the bee lady.’

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Jean carefully records her collections for Age UK

That was over 24 years ago and, today, Jean’s distinctive brand of fundraising has made her a local legend. Wearing her homemade bee costume, with a little tin on her arm, Jean can often be found outside her local shopping centre raising much-needed funds for Age UK.

‘Street’ can be one of the most thankless forms of fundraising, but Jean has managed to earn the public’s love and collect a staggering £110,000! She makes a note of everything she raises in her little book. And as you can see, the day she reached her initial goal of £100,000 she wrote ‘start again’ – she’s truly unstoppable.

‘One of the bee’s rules is to have a smile for everyone.’

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Jean carried the Olympic torch in 2012

Jean has won a Pride of Britain award, provided countless press opportunities for Age UK and even had a phone box in Hull city centre painted black and yellow in her honour. She also briefly swapped her bee costume for a tracksuit to carry the Olympic Torch through Hull in 2012.

When I asked Jean what has made her so successful she told me:

When I put on my costume, I become the bee. I am the bee!

And she said that the bee only has two rules: 

Number one, always have a smile for everyone you meet. And number two, never ever shake your tin.

‘I just love the people. They’re so nice to me.’

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A phone box in Hull was painted in black & yellow in Jean's honour.

Jean’s style of fundraising is transparent, it’s honest and it’s from the heart. She genuinely loves dressing up, meeting people and raising money for the cause that she cares about. And her love for fundraising shines through in everything she does.

She also perfectly embodies Age UK’s work that, in the simplest terms, makes older people happy. You can’t argue with Jean that your money isn’t going to a good cause because she’s living proof of the impact Age UK have on older people’s lives.

The experience of entering IWTTAT (I Want To Talk At That) and, consequently, speaking at IWITOT, has been unforgettable for so many reasons. But I think meeting Jean and seeing for myself how deeply passionate she is about fundraising is something that will stay with me for the rest of my career.

We spend so much of our time concerned with our beneficiaries’ happiness and our donors’ happiness, that we often forget about our own. But it’s sharing that deep passion that we feel for our causes that will ultimately light a fire under our donors, bring them into the fold and convince them that we are worthy of their support.

I think we can all learn a lot from Jean Bishop, especially that, from time to time, we must all ‘become the bee’. To let our happiness and our passion shine through in our fundraising. And to remind ourselves as often as possible why we do what we do.

If you’d like to see Jean in action, check out this lovely video from Age UK’s YouTube channel:

And if you have any questions about Jean or IWITOT, you can find me on twitter @AlfieWaldron

Alfie Waldron is a copywriter and fundraiser at Open. Alfie was one of the audition winners for I Want To Talk At That #IWTTAT and was mentored by Andy Harris Director of Fundraising & Marketing at Breast Cancer Care. His presentation at I Wish I'd Thought Of That IWITOT 2016 was filmed and can be seen below.

About the author: Alfie Waldron

Alfie Waldron is a midweight copywriter and fundraiser at Open, specialising in mail, press and mobile communications.

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