Downes family music fundraiser raises over £3,000 for Stoke Mandeville Spinal Research

Stoke Mandeville Spinal Research (SMSR) supporter Paula Downes, along with her music-loving family, embarked on an ambitious fundraising project in 2020 to host a year of musical concerts in celebration of Andrew Downes, 70th birthday, with the aim of raising funds for SMSR to fund life changing research into spinal cord injury.

Andrew, a British composer, who is wheelchair-bound, received care and support at the National Spinal Injuries Unit, Stoke Mandeville Hospital, in 2010, after breaking his back at home when his hip gave way due to his ankylosing spondylitis (arthritis of the spine), a condition he has had since the age of 12.

Paula explained how they got involved in the project and fundraising for SMSR: “Dad broke his back and ended up being in Stoke Mandeville Hospital for nine months where they taught him how to live again using a wheelchair. We were really impressed with the treatment he received; it was absolutely amazing to see him being brought back to life.”

So, in celebration of Andrew’s big birthday and as a ‘thank you’ for his “amazing” care and treatment, the Downes family made the decision to host a year of concerts to help raise funds: “Initially we were going to hold live concerts, but then the pandemic struck, so we ended up moving the concerts online,” explained Paula. “Before the first lockdown, we did manage to host two live concerts in January (2020) in Cambridge, with the Cambridgeshire Holiday Orchestra 7+ Choir and my all-female vocal group, The Cantabrigians, then one in February (2020) at Birmingham University with the Central England Ensemble, who performed as part of a reunion concert, which my sister, Anna, helped to organise. It was a huge success raising over £1,000 through donations.

“After a fourth live performance for Valentine’s Day, we then had to move online, so started to do recordings of all the concerts and hosting these events through Facebook, as well as creating podcasts, blogs and interviews which we just kept sharing with people online to reach as many people as we could.”

Paula added: “Being part of this special year-long project has been good for the whole family and has really helped to take our mind off the current situation. I think because we’ve had to go online, we’ve been able to reach a much wider audience which has been truly amazing.”

Commenting on what she might say to someone to encourage them to get behind a small charity like Stoke Mandeville Spinal Research, Paula said: “A spinal cord injury can happen to anyone at any time, and it has a massive impact on your life and the lives of your family. My Dad suffers from one of the key areas funded by the Charity, neuropathic pain, and to have this constant pain is extremely difficult for him to deal with. I think that’s why Dad composes every day, it’s his escapism, his composition has been his healer. The arts have been so important to us as a family throughout the pandemic.”

Paula would like to say a big thank you to all the musicians who have taken part in the concerts, to everyone who has contributed to interviews, podcasts and performances, to all those who have supported, watched and donated to the cause, and to Anthony Bradbury, sister Anna and Andrew and Cynthia Downes for their wonderful support and contribution.

SMSR Fundraising Manager, Charlotte Minoprio, said: “To have raised nearly £3,200 in such a difficult year just shows how moved people have been by Andrew's story and his music. We are so grateful for the family's support, and all the musicians who gave up their time, and thank them for their incredible efforts on our behalf.”

To find out more about the Andrew Downes fundraisers, please visit