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Suzuki gets onboard with vital fundraising work

By Maxine Ashford | October 19, 2021

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Japenese manufacturer gets behind firefighter on a charity mission

Suzuki is a name strongly associated with developing good quality cars, motorbikes and all-terrain vehicles. But it is the marine side of the business that has proved so beneficial to a fundraising firefighter.

And as the Japanese company celebrates its centenary year, it was the perfect time to learn about their charitable donations that helped make and continue to make dreams come true.

It all began when Will Parkinson, 37, a firefighter in Kent and at the Ministry of Defence at Fort Halstead and Porton Down, with more than 18 years’ experience under his belt, began suffering from chronic pain. He had quickly gone from someone who people relied on for help and support to someone needing it himself.

He was feeling tired all the time and simple tasks that he once took in his stride became more difficult. After seeking medical advice and undergoing a number of tests, Will was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2008, a chronic inflammation of the digestive tract that is exceptionally painful.

He tried to persevere with his work and remained physically fit, but over the years the condition got worse and he needed several stints in hospital which meant he was out of action for long periods at a time. He also started to lose weight dropping from around 100kg which was fine for the 5ft 11ins firefighter to 74kg at one stage.

In 2017, he was offered the choice of surgery or trialling a new drug that would need self-injecting every 15 days and would act as an immunosuppressant. He opted for the drug treatment so as to avoid surgery.

But there was another major setback. A Crohn’s flare-up put Will back in hospital and he was then diagnosed with latent TB. This meant three months of treatment to eradicate it before finally starting the trial for Crohn’s.

After finally taking the drug, Will was doubled up with pain, but hoped it was just a coincidence. He waited until the next injection was due and tried again. Three days later Will was back in hospital and in May 2019, a surgeon removed a large section of Will’s intestine.

But Will was struggling both mentally and physically. He explained: “At this point, I’d become really down in the dumps. I think it was a culmination of all that time leading up to that, the trial and error, nothing really working and progressively getting worse. I was really depressed.

“When I was really ill, my son Jacob was only two and after my operation, Heidi was just born, so being a dad that wants to be running around outside, with Crohn’s it can be very hard. They’ve been a real drive in me to get better.”

Will was unable to work for about six months as he recovered from the surgery, and it was during this time he came across a flyer describing some of the mental health support The Fire Fighters Charity offers beneficiaries.

“You kind of don’t want to make a call, you don’t think you need to. But when I did, the Charity was so good. There was someone at the end of phone who I could talk through some of my experiences with – they helped put a positive spin on those negative feelings.”

Will chatted to the Charity about his hobbies, in particular fishing. He began planning how he could not only focus on fishing to improve his own mental health at the time, but also potentially help other firefighters and beneficiaries too – as well as giving back to the Charity.

“I fished at as many competitions around the UK as I could in 2019 into 2020, and every competition I went to, I’d give any prize money I won back to the Charity,” said the father of two.

“I started off with my small boat and I got the Charity logo on it, but lots of events were cancelled due to coronavirus. Still, it hasn’t stopped me, and I have a little team now, Smart Fishing UK, where we professionally fish around the UK and have some amazing sponsors, such as Suzuki, who support me with my mission to raise money and awareness for The Fire Fighters Charity.”

Will’s dream is to take firefighters or anyone struggling with their mental health or basically struggling in life out on the open water. If they want to fish, they can. If they want to simply breathe in the fresh air then that’s just fine too.

He said: “I now have a new boat that I paid £160k for and I’m hoping in the future, we’ll be able to use it as an asset for some of the other firefighters or their families to go out – like I did – and just switch off.

“I class going out on the water as the big blue gym. As soon as you leave land, you leave your worries behind. It gets you away from what’s troubling you essentially and provides time to reflect and make memories.

“Seeing someone else benefit from the open water makes me smile all day long.

“After 18 years of my life being a fireman, I know the implications and impact the job can have on someone to start with. It wasn’t fire-related for me, my op and illness, but the Charity still supported me 110%. I’m so thankful.”

And Will is hoping to get a third boat to help with his mission too.

Suzuki explained why it was so keen to support Will in his mission to give something back.

Mark Beeley, Head of ATV and Marine at Suzuki, said: “Suzuki is delighted to be able to support The Fire Fighters Charity with this venture. We thought it was an excellent concept for a very worthy charity and we received an exciting proposal from Will and the charity.

“The first outboard that we provided was a DF90ATL (90 horsepower, retail price £9,600) which is fitted to their Dell Quay Dory fishing boat. This was a restoration project also supported by some other big marine industry names. 

“The next project was the Smartfish boat that appeared at our 100th Anniversary event in Cardiff and this time we supplied a DF300B (300 horsepower, retail price £27,500). The DF300B is part of our flagship group of ‘GEKI’ dual-propeller outboard motors. GEKI means ‘parting of the seas’ and was the project name given to this group of market-leading outboards. The dual-propeller technology enables them to transfer the engine power to the water more efficiently thus giving them greater grip and acceleration as well as superior stability both in a straight line and when turning the boat.

“We lend the outboards free of charge. We allow the charity to fundraise at our events, boat shows and exhibitions and in return we ask that they attend some events, to facilitate product demonstrations and give some honest end-user feedback as to how the outboards perform, their reliability and the true cost of use. 

“All of the outboards in question benefit from our Lean Burn Control System, which continually supplies the exact fuel/air mixture to the engine depending on the navigation conditions. This makes them incredibly fuel-efficient across the entire rev range and not just in a particular ‘sweet spot’.

“They have a third boat planned and we have already agreed, in principle, to supply two more outboards as it will require a twin installation. It is expected that it will be powered by two of our DF140B outboards (140 horsepower, retail price £14,000 each).

“It's important to Suzuki to do what it can for charities such as Wetwheels, The Fire Fighters Charity and The Wheelyboat Trust as they are providing so much good in what they do to genuinely help people. We share their belief in the benefits of ‘blue health’ and that being out on the water can bring so many benefits to people’s mental health and well-being. We also share their ethos of making boating accessible to all.

“Recreational boating should not just be a pastime for the wealthy or able-bodied, it should be enjoyed by a wider part of society starting with those who wouldn't normally ever get the chance to experience the thrill of a powerboat, which is a common goal that all of these charities have.”

And Louise Furneaux, Community Corporate and Events Fundraiser for The Fire Fighters Charity, paid tribute to Will and his dedication to helping others. She said: “I am so delighted and excited to support Will with his fundraising and ambassadorship with Suzuki. He is an inspiration to us all, turning what was such a challenging part of his life into something so positive, both for himself and his fellow firefighters.

“Firefighters have been taking on extensive new roles during the Covid-19 pandemic and this could potentially impact on their mental health. We want our charity to become a household name and support the whole firefighter’s community, from volunteers to family members, as well as front line workers.

“During the pandemic, firefighters have been helping at immunisation centres, transporting PPE, working at mortuaries, driving ambulances and working in ICU at hospitals. It’s not their normal day-to-day work and there has been a huge increase in the need for welfare and mental health support. We offer all the support we can whenever it is needed.”

But supporting people does not come cheap and with so many restrictions in place throughout 2020 and 2021, the usual fundraising ventures virtually ground to a halt. 

Louise Furneaux explained: “We are usually very active with fundraising in ‘normal’ times, but we are about £200,000 a month down due to Covid.

“With your help, we can continue to be there for thousands of beneficiaries every year, supporting the entire fire service community - as well as spouses, partners and dependents - with their physical, mental and social wellbeing.”

Anyone wanting to donate to The Fire Fighters Charity can visit www.firefighterscharity.org.uk for details. 

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