Katy Lironi: How a back garden party of 80s Scots pop stars became a Down’s fundraiser

Matilda, Katy Lironi's  13-year-old daughter who has Down's syndrome, and some of  the artists taking part in Sandfest at the Glasgow Concert Hall, including Katy's husband  Douglas MacIntyre
Matilda, Katy Lironi's 13-year-old daughter who has Down's syndrome, and some of the artists taking part in Sandfest at the Glasgow Concert Hall, including Katy's husband Douglas MacIntyre
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In March 2007, on the ­Sunday closest to World Down’s ­Syndrome Day (21 March), my husband Douglas and I held a party in our back garden celebrating three occasions – our eldest daughter 
Amelia’s seventh birthday, welcoming our five month old twins to the world and raising awareness of this special day.

Instead of gifts in a house already bursting at the seams with kids’ ­paraphernalia, we asked guests to contribute to our favourite charity – Down’s Syndrome Scotland.

Our middle daughter Matilda, who has Down’s syndrome, was three at the time and we knew we wanted to fundraise for the charity.

This seemed like the 
perfect excuse to combine our love of music and the desire to raise ­money and awareness – not to ­mention bringing music to the rural ­community that we found ourselves living in.

The sun shone and the March winds stayed under control as friends lugged amps, speakers and musical instruments on to the makeshift stage at the bottom of the garden. Douglas took to the stage with a little bit of help from his friends, Ken and David McCluskey of the Bluebells, and musicians Andy Alston and Mick Slaven, to entertain a gardenful of family and friends.

Everyone danced, money was raised, and the sun continued to shine as Ken McCluskey climbed atop the garden hut in the fading ­afternoon sunlight to sing Young at Heart; a whole village singing along with him. He finished with the announcement: “Thanks for coming everyone, see you at Sandfest next year!” And so Sandfest was born ….

Every year thereafter Sandfest has been raising money for Down’s ­Syndrome Scotland and entertaining locals at ­Sandford Village Hall in Lanarkshire. The ­original line up of ­Douglas, Mick, Andy and The McCluskey Brothers was added to by James Grant (Love and Money), Grahame Skinner (Hipsway) and Justin Currie (Del Amitri) on vocals, with musicians Campbell Owen (Aztec Camera) and Gordon Wilson (Love & Money) joining in to form the now legendary Sandford City Rockers.

Sandfest swiftly transmogrified into a heaving, sweaty, mosh pit kind of legendary happening, where far too many 80s-pop-loving adults squeezed into one tiny village hall and sang and danced the night away to their favourite popsters.

It is with huge pleasure that ­Douglas and I join together with Down’s ­Syndrome Scotland this year to bring Sandfest 2018 to the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow. The line-up remains the same, with the welcome ­addition of my sister-in-law Clare Grogan and an all-female Altered Images. We look forward to raising awareness of Down’s syndrome among a music-loving audience. They will also be entertained by Choir 21, singers with Down’s syndrome from The Ups and Downs Theatre Group, who will open the concert.

The back garden party all those years ago raised £600 that was split between Down’s Syndrome Scotland and the neonatal unit at Wishaw ­General Hospital where Matilda was born. Over the years Sandfest has consistently raised around £3,000. It is hoped that this year we will raise £50,000.

Sandfest 2018 will herald Down’s Syndrome Awareness Week 2018 and raise funds for Down’s Syndrome Scotland in the year that they host the World Down Syndrome Congress, in Glasgow, in July. If we can raise as much as possible while ­transposing the village hall vibe to the concert hall stage, our job will be done.

You can book tickets for Sandfest 2018 through the Glasgow Concert Hall website by visiting www.glasgowconcerthalls.com or giving them a call on 0141 353 8000.

Down’s Syndrome Scotland is the only charity in Scotland solely dedicated to supporting people with Down’s syndrome and their families.

If you would like more information, or to make a donation, please visit www.dsscotland.org.uk

Katy Lironi