New North West London Branch Patron has big 2020 vision
MND Association Ambassador, actor Gina Bellman, has had a long association with motor neurone disease. Since recently becoming patron of the North West London Branch, she is keen to use her extensive social media presence to do even more to increase awareness of MND and raise funds for the Association in the New Year.
Gina's mother was diagnosed 15 years ago with MND variant PLS and the actor went to school with North West London branch Co-Chair Sarah Ezekiel, an artist who has been living with MND for years.
© Faye Thomas
"Those are my two motivating connections and then over the years I've come to know other people with it," says Gina. "Until this point I've been happy to bring communities together, spread the word on social media, raise awareness as much as I can. But now being asked to be a patron of the branch is going to mobilise me to get more informed about campaigning and fundraising. It's definitely something I'm interested in giving my time for."
A star in US crime series 'Leverage' and due to appear next month in Sky drama 'Bulletproof' alongside British actors Noel Clarke and Ashley Walters, Gina has built up a big social media following and has already used that base to raise awareness of MND in the United States as well as here.
"I've been active as a spokesperson on Twitter. I've got 60,000 followers on Twitter, most of whom are people who watched an American TV programme I was in for many years (Leverage). I've used that platform to raise awareness about motor neurone disease and ALS in the States and I'm always happy to retweet any sort of fundraising that's going on or any new research discoveries or inspiring stories about people living with motor neurone disease."
Ms Bellman is keen to get a jump start on the fundraising in the New Year and will be tweeting her fan base for ideas for events in 2020, although she is careful to stress running might not play a huge part for her personally.
"I haven't been boots on the ground raising money, I haven't done a run but I'm open to putting my hand in my pocket and trying to raise some real money that can go where it's needed, in research. I've got a new series coming out in January, which hopefully will get a bit of press and there's talk of me doing something else in the States next year and I just feel that any bit of help in raising awareness and fund raising is much needed," Gina said.
A career in acting has made Gina passionate about opening up creative channels for people living with MND and she highlighted the Association's recent 'Art Beyond Limits' exhibition at London's Oxo Gallery. The exhibition was part of the programme to mark the MND Association's 40th anniversary and showcased art by people affected by the disease, including pictures by Sarah Ezekiel.
"I thought the exhibition at the Oxo Gallery was mindblowing and what I found really extraordinary about the artists that are living with MND and producing art is how hopeful it is. It's so challenging living with motor neurone disease and it's such hard work. What I love about seeing artists' work is you see their inner life and that inner life was incredibly optimistic and hopeful and that's a beautiful thing," said Gina.
Watching her mother's daily challenges with routine tasks such as washing and dressing has given Gina an appreciation for the efforts people living with MND have to make to express themselves. This is something that makes her determined to amplify the voices of people with MND and to publicise the cause.
"I think it's really important to destigmatise people who can't necessarily communicate in the way that we're used to but are people who really have something to offer society, whether as a painter, writer, or actor. I'd like to be a voice for people who have something to offer and don't feel that they're being heard or seen. People living with MND have a lot to give society and if I can shine a light on that even in a small way I'd be thrilled."
Words by Keiron Henderson - Volunteer writer