Following her successful pop-up cake trail last year, Michelle Vanlint is planning the return of her annual garden party and 16th charity cake sale. With a £25,000 fundraising target, plenty of volunteers are needed
I moved back to the UK in 2002. I wanted to do some voluntary work and decided on Haven House Children’s Hospice after reading about them in a local magazine. Initially, I worked in their office in Chingford, supporting the fundraising team, and then I looked for other ways to support the hospice.
I decided to organise a cake sale at my home – who doesn’t love cake and a cup of tea? It was a very simple idea and easy to get people to engage with – getting something nice for your money is better than a straightforward donation!
The first event was held in 2006. We raised around £200 and probably 30 to 40 people popped in. I baked all the cakes myself. It lasted just a few hours and the set-up was minimal, so my mum and I could manage on our own in my kitchen. Over the years, the event has snowballed, initially as a result of word of mouth, then social media helped with promotion, boosted by everybody’s positive endorsement of what a lovely day it is. It is now a regular date in many people’s summer calendars, and they make an afternoon of it and meet up with friends. It is a marvellous sight to see the garden full of people eating cake and drinking tea and coffee, while raising money for an amazing cause.
The event has increased in all dimensions, including the number and variety of cakes, number of bakers, length of the event itself and facilities to accommodate greater numbers of people. This requires preparation and a masterplan. We open the doors around 11am and serve tea, coffee and cake all day, and in the afternoon, ‘Pimm’s o’Clock’ has been added to the agenda. We finish with a BBQ in the evening. I also have several stalls in the garden with vendors selling handbags, homemade chutneys, jams, jewellery and Forever Living products. Each seller donates part of their proceeds to the cause. The planning starts months before and the set-up starts several days before.
I now need a rota for the army of helpers who take on tasks such as collecting garden furniture from neighbours and setting up all the tables and chairs, washing up as I bake, chopping Pimm’s fruit, serving tea and coffee, serving cakes (usually four of us are serving at any one time), washing up cake stands as we continually restock, washing up all the cups and plates as guests come and go, moving furniture in my house to prepare and then moving it back afterwards, washing up hundreds of plastic Roses and Quality Street tubs for the cakes we sell for people to take home, selling raffle tickets, wrapping raffle prizes and generally doing whatever needs to be done.
An incredible number of people bake too – without them, the event would not be possible. I usually bake around 30 cakes in the days leading up to the event and then I think at least another 80 to 100 cakes are delivered, which always sell out.
Last year, COVID-19 forced us to rethink the event completely, and I only decided on a new approach two weeks before, when the restrictions were made clear. I decided to do a pop-up cake trail, where you could bake and sell to your neighbours. I put some messages out on social media and was overwhelmed with support and offers of help. Before I knew it, the event had progressed to an international pop-up trail, with people having stalls outside their house locally and in Australia and the USA. It was a completely manic two weeks. My son had to manage all the messages and questions while I baked, as I could not keep on top of it all.
Miraculously, we got everybody organised and updated the trail posters several times (people kept asking to be added). I had a stall outside my house, and the following day, another stall outside The Cuckfield in Wanstead. After a very hectic three days, we sold out of cake and smashed our target of £1,000. I had no idea how people would feel about coming out and eating cake mid-pandemic, but I was blown away by the response and support.
During my 14th garden-based event in 2019, we had raised nearly £10,000, but in 2020, with the cake trail in COVID lockdown, we raised over £24,000! This year, COVID restrictions pending, we are hoping to do a combination of pop-up stalls around the area, as well as the return of my garden party.
If anybody reading this is interested in helping this year – in any way – please get in touch. And if any local businesses would like to donate a raffle prize, that would be greatly appreciated. I cannot put the event on without the support of the local community.
Michelle’s 16th annual cake sale in aid of Haven House will take place on 25 June in her garden at 12 Derby Road, South Woodford, E18 2PU (COVID restrictions pending). A pop-up cake trail will also take place locally on 26 and 27 June.