The Ladies Behind CNCF Ladies’ Long Lunch

As we’re midway through the month of March, what’s on our minds is the energy that April brings. We’re thinking Rugby week, and more so, the Ladies’ Long Lunch, a long-standing event to usher in the first game of the weekend. The ToTT staple is the genius idea of three ladies, long time fundraisers for The Christina Noble Children’s Foundation.
The Christina Noble Children’s Foundation was founded by Christina Noble in 1991. The foundation is dedicated to helping underprivileged children and those that are at-risk of commercial or sexual exploitation. The CNCF office in Hong Kong is one reason why the children are getting the support they need, as one of the highest fundraising chapters for CNCF; the annual Ladies’ Long Lunch is one of the most sought-after events during this crazy Rugby week. As CNCF looks forward to the 10th anniversary of this successful “have-fun while giving to a good cause” event next year, we talked to Sandra Burgess, Melinda Mak and Cheryl Fender, the ladies behind the LLL to reflect on the past nine years.

left to right; Melinda Mak, Cheryl Fender and Sandra Burgess

When was LLL established?

Sandy:  The very first Ladies’ Long Lunch hosted 162 lucky and glamorous women at the Watermark restaurant overlooking Victoria Harbour in March 2010. Small-scale but big impact – the inaugural event raised a staggering HK$550,000 and the SCMP reported that “another Hong Kong legend (had) been born” – we were thrilled!

As one of the original member of the Hong Kong chapter for CNCF, how did the idea of LLL came about?

Sandy: The idea came up during a regular board meeting – we were talking about fundraising events around the Hong Kong 7s weekend and thought it would be fun to host a ladies version of the well-established pre-rugby 7s long lunch, which has long been the preserve of the males of the species. Why not give the hard-working ladies of Hong Kong a chance to join in the pre-rugby revelry?

How has the event changed over the years? What are some of the opportunities and challenges faced when planning this Hong Kong legendary event?

Sandy: It’s just got bigger! When we moved to our now well-established venue at the Hong Kong Jockey Club we had over 600 ladies on a waiting list for 300 seats! We had to introduce a ballot and this has continued with the event being sold out for 8 consecutive years – during that time we have raised over HK$8million for the Foundation. Since the launch of the lunch we have partnered with Ryder Diamonds, who sponsor the Diamond Draw, Joseph Perrier Champagne and Penguins RFC, whose rugby 10s players & coaching staff support the event by helping to set up, act as ushers, serve champagne, assist with the auctions & lucky draws as well as taking to the catwalk for a fun-filled fashion show!

Christina Noble Children’s Foundation Ladies Long Lunch at Happy Valley Racecourse, Hong Kong

Cheryl: The fashion show is always a challenge – making sure the sponsor has big sizes for the players and then hoping the clothes will fit! Trying to show the guys how to be a model and how and where to ‘catwalk’ – often just 30 minutes before the guests arrive is always entertaining!

Mel: Co-ordinating and briefing all the volunteers is a very big challenge – on event day we have 20 CNCF volunteers, up to 35 players and staff from Penguins Rugby, plus our MCs, staff from our auction partner, FR Events as well as the HKJC team. Ensuring they all know their roles so the event will run smoothly is always a big task!

LLL is known for its fun afternoon while raising money for a good cause. Please tell more me about the attendees.
Sandy: It’s a very glamorous event, a chance for all our guests to get dressed up and enjoy a wonderful afternoon of enormous fun – all for a great cause. Our guests are a mix of professionals, executives, ladies of leisure as well as full-time mums but one thing they all have in common is they are so incredibly generous. Many of our guests have been coming every year since the very first event.
Mel: We organise a coach every year to take guests from the lunch to the Hong Kong Stadium – I have never had the opportunity to see all our glamorous guests arriving at the stadium wearing their posh frocks and heels instead of the more usual attire of fancy dress or shorts & t-shirts!

Are there any stories about how LLL really made its mark, why is it the biggest event during Rugby week and why is it so memorable?

Sandy: When some of our ladies joked that it was harder to get a ticket for the Ladies’ Long Lunch than it was for the rugby 7s! Ladies love to chat of course, and getting a room full of them to take their seats is always a challenge; then one of our volunteers had the brilliant idea to get the rugby players to perform a Haka, the traditional Maori war dance; this has become our signature start to the lunch and the perfect way to get our guests’ attention!

Mel: When we realised no one wants to leave! The event is the talk of the town at the Hong Kong stadium both after the event and during the weekend. Other rugby 10’s teams would LOVE an invite to come to help out on the day! The Ladies’ Long Lunch is such a great place for everyone to catch up, chat, laugh, be entertained, pampered, have fun with their girlfriends….all in aid of raising money for some of the world’s most disadvantaged children.

What are some of your best memories from past events? What are some of the most rewarding moments?

Sandy: The first time we surpassed the HK$1million mark – I was in tears. Every year I realise how fortunate most of us are here in Hong Kong and how easy it is to help others. Christina Noble talks a lot about how one person can make a difference and this event gives us all that opportunity. I am also grateful for the amazing friendship we have as a result of working together so closely.

Christina Noble Children’s Foundation Ladies Long Lunch at Happy Valley Racecourse, Hong Kong

Cheryl: In 2014 the three of us went to the CNCF Girls Shelter in Ho Chi
Minh which is a residential centre for young girls aged 5-18, all of whom have
suffered some form of trauma. We wanted to make a video to highlight the
project and to raise funds at the lunch. Meeting the girls, helping them practise
their English, having fun doing their hair & nails, watching them dancing & then
joining in, learning how to cook Vietnamese dishes and then having lunch with
them. It was an amazing couple of days. Then we shared the video at the lunch with
all the guests and realising that it really is worth giving up our time to help these
children.

Mel: The first event was a real milestone – we didn’t even expect to break even but we managed to raise $500k with only 160 women. The Penguins Rugby volunteers were still helping us set up, flying around the room putting programs on the tables whilst the first guests were arriving as they literally arrived hot of the press from the printer! True gentlemen and we are always so impressed by how helpful they have been and continue to be.

The LLL is the place you’d want to spend the afternoon before heading to the stadium. The LLL also welcomes new guests to the event.  Can you describe the day, what do new attendees expect?
Sandy: Fine food & wine, exciting silent & live auctions, a live pledge for our Social
& Medical Centre in Vietnam, champagne & diamonds, lucky draws for the chance
to win an exclusive British Airways Gold Card and a gold edition iPad, plus
entertainment and lots of laughter – we put the fun in fundraising!

Mel: We are grateful to the HKJC for their support over the past 8 years and we know our guests can always rely on great service from their hard-working staff.

How has raising funds for CNCF changed over the years and since it’s
inception? It will be it’s 10th year next year,  where do you hope to take the charity and LLL in the next year?
Sandy: Next year will be the 30th anniversary of the Foundation – to date we have
directly helped 900,000 children and positively impacted lives of over 1m children
and adults. The fundraising environment is more competitive than ever but we are
as committed as ever to giving disadvantaged children back their childhood.

Cheryl: We are so excited about the LLL 2019 and the three of us will be back
together in Hong Kong for this amazing occasion!
Mel: Every year our guest amaze us with their generosity. We are really looking
forward to celebrating the 10th LLL and to welcoming back lots of guests who
were at the very first event!

What are some of the other ways we can donate or support CNCF besides
attending the LLL?
Sandy: There are lots of ways to get involved – by sponsoring a child’s education
through our Child Sponsorship Programme, by taking part in one of our CNCF
Adventure Challenges in Vietnam or Mongolia, by sponsoring or contributing
auction prizes, or speak to us about volunteering opportunities. One person can
make a difference, you can make a difference.

How can others attend?
Sandy contact us [email protected] for last minute tickets!

Facebook: @ChristinaNobleChildrensFoundationInt
Facebook Events : @CNCFHongKong
Instagram: christina_noble_foundation
Global Website: cncf.org

More about the LLL Dream Team

Left to right: Mel Mak, Cheryl Fender, Sandra Burgess

Mel: Mel was born and raised in Edinburgh to Hong Kong parents and studied in Leeds in Hotel Management, arriving in Hong Kong in 1993. Mel has been in events management for over 27 years and during a couple of stints in Singapore she met her English husband, Lee. They have 3 children ages 10, 11 & 13. Mel brings a wealth of experience to the events team and her Scottish-Chinese heritage makes her a born negotiator! Mel loves working out, whether HIT, Yoga, Pilates, hiking or playing hockey. She is still amazed by Hong Kong, even after 26 years!

Cheryl:  Ex-dancer and choreographer, Cheryl lived in Hong Kong for 17 years where she met her husband. Cheryl was a hands-on volunteer for over 7 years and was the inspiration behind the fun-filled Ladies’ Long Lunch fashion show which is a highlight of the event! Cheryl currently lives in the UK with her husband, Darren and 2 teenage daughters. Cheryl is still involved with CNCF through the child sponsorship programme and is already planning the return trip to Hong Kong next year to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the Ladies’ Long Lunch!

Sandy: Originally from the UK, Sandy first came to Hong Kong over 35 years ago on route to study Mandarin at Beijing University. After working in the Chinese Steel & Metallurgical industries she met her English husband in Hong Kong in 1991 and they made the territory their home. They have 2 sons both studying abroad in the US and the UK. Sandy first joined CNCF as a volunteer in 2002 and with a creative eye and a passion for fundraising the events team soon began to expand. Sandy joined the Hong Kong board of directors in 2008 and despite a move to Dubai in 2016 is still actively involved with CNCF as events director and looking forward to celebrating 10 years of the Ladies’ Long Lunch