As manager of a luxury Edinburgh hotel, Alan McGuiggan was used to receiving requests to support charities.
But when an organisation close to his heart approached him five years ago, he thought there must be more he could do to help than the usual of offering a charity auction prize.
What followed was the first in a series of events which has raised more than £250,000 towards vital research and support for people living with debilitating bowel disease in Scotland.
Since 2011, the Spring Ball at Prestonfield House Hotel has funded work looking into paediatric inflammatory bowel disease (PIBD) – which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis - at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children.
“Five years ago I had a phone call from Angus McLean at Crohn’s and Colitis UK, asking if Prestonfield would donate some vouchers,” Alan explained.
“As I have a family member with Crohn’s disease I thought, what else can we do?
“At the first ball five years ago we had 150 people, mostly friends and family. This year, the event was completely sold out and we made around £75,000.”
Along with the ball, donations throughout the year and a charity golf day, Alan and the team at Prestonfield House have raised more than a quarter of a million pounds in five years.
The money has been split between the charity Crohn’s and Colitis UK and to inflammatory bowel research in Edinburgh.
Scotland has one of the highest rates of Crohn’s in the world. It is estimated in the next ten years more people will be diagnosed with bowel disease than with diabetes.
Crohn’s disease is an incurable illness, causing inflammation, ulcers and scarring.
The main symptoms are bowel pain, diarrhoea, tiredness and weight loss, and it is often associated with other inflammatory conditions affecting the joints, skin and eyes.
This year’s Spring ball was hosted by radio DJ Grant Stott, featured music by the Scottish band Hue and Cry, and guests included Gary Tank Commander’s Greg McHugh.
“We have three objectives with the ball, fun, to raise awareness and to fundraise,” Alan explained.
“It’s quite an embarrassing thing to talk about because you have to go to the toilet constantly. Some people think it is the same as IBS, but it’s not, it is a serious disease and you can die from it.
“I am determined that we find a cure. It seems like it should be a curable disease, but it is proving difficult.”
Despite its low profile, inflammatory bowel disease received a boost in awareness recently after Scottish footballer Darren Fletcher said he had been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2011. He managed to return to football following surgery, but admitted at the time he had been one of the lucky ones.
“You can be running to the toilet 10, 20, 30 times a day and losing a lot of blood,” said the Scotland midfielder at the time. “I ended up in hospital a couple of times on an IV drip. Surgery enabled me to be here today. I’m very fortunate.”
David Barker, chief executive of the charity Crohn’s and Colitis UK, praised the Spring Ball for helping raises awareness of IBD.
“There is a real lack of awareness, no one wants to talk about the bowels,” he said.
“These are conditions that don’t have the awareness. They are almost invisible diseases. Events like the Spring Ball are so important in helping to create greater awareness and understanding.”
As well as the charity, one team that benefits from fundraising at the Ball is IBD researchers in Edinburgh.
Professor David Wilson is a clinician and professor of Paediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition at the University of Edinburgh
There has been a massive 750 per cent rise in the number of under-16s being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in Scotland in the past 45 years. Prof Wilson said: “The Spring Ball has been a fantastic supporter.
“Research is very expensive and events like the Spring Ball have been great at de-stigmatising the symptoms of Chrohn’s. You also can’t underestimate the importance of Darren Fletcher for helping raises awareness, and for kids who have suffered, they can now say “I have that Darren Fletcher has”.