“I KNOW,” said Rob Gillespie, “that there are a lot of successful businesses in Swindon which are run by like-minded folk who want to put something back.

“I have always been impressed by not just the business community but Swindon’s wider community - its never-ceasing ability to raise charitable funds.

“It’s not an easy thing to do and I think, from a community point of view - because Swindon is sometimes criticised as being a bit of a joke town and that makes me very angry - there’s a fantastic community spirit that never ceases to amaze me.”

This year’s ball will be held on May 12. To mark the 29th anniversary of the high-profile event, the organisers aim to persuade 29 local businesses to donate £500 apiece.

Thanks to a pledge by Rotary International through its Global Grant scheme to match the donations pound for pound, the eventual total will be £29,000.

In a break with Charity Ball tradition, the money will not be distributed to a variety of local good causes but handed over to one. Brighter Futures is inching closer to its final goal of giving Swindon its own radiotherapy unit, meaning patients will no longer face gruelling journeys for life-saving or life-lengthening treatment.

The decision to devote the ball to the organisation was not difficult.

Rob said: “I do not know anybody who has doesn’t know somebody who has been touched by cancer - my wife’s niece is currently undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

“At that time of your life, when you’re going through that stress and anxiety, the last thing you need is to travel miles to get the treatment that your body needs. It takes time to get there; there’s parking, there’s driving yourself or being driven or using the bus or other public transport.

“It’s stress which at that point in your life you do not need.

“To provide the greater Swindon community with that type of treatment, we just felt we should try to get them over the line.

“We thought that would be the most positive and single most appropriate target for the money raised.”

Rob, a long-time Swindon Rotarian, offered to become involved with the Charity Ball committee in 2016.

He was vice-chair last year, and in accordance with what has become something of a committee tradition he is the chair for 2018 - although he is keen to play down the significance of his own work and highlight the contributions of others.

“I have to say my own role is only helping to run meetings. I have a fantastic committee who are very supportive of me and very supportive of the ball.

“Some have been working in this committee for years. I’m very lucky in having such fantastic support.

“I don’t want to be in the limelight - I’m just the titular head of a fantastic organisation.”

Rob is full of praise not just for the committee but also for the businesses which support the ball, plus Rotary and the Swindon Marriott. The latter provides and decorates what is universally regarded as the home of the event.

He is also full of praise and respect for the people who originally devised and founded the Charity Ball in the late 1980s. The total raised since then currently stands at more than £790,000.

“It’s going to be a fantastic evening - and the principal aim is to raise as much money as we can for Brighter Futures.

“It’s going to have a Bollywood theme so there’s going to be a whole range of traditional entertainment, demonstrations, Indian music and dance.

“There’s going to be a silent auction and a live auction, with prizes from a whole range of fantastic supporters.

“They range from holidays to railway trips to hotel accommodation - Marriott has been able to offer a whole range of stays throughout the country.”

Guests will be greeted by traditional Indian drumming when they arrive at the venue and serenaded toward the end of the evenings by a covers band, 24/7.

“They’re going to see out the evening until we’re all worn out and want to go home!

“Every year the Marriott put on the most stunning room decor.”

Rob was involved with other charity work prior to becoming involved with the Charity Ball, and is constantly impressed by the kindness and determination he sees.

“Just watching and taking part in some of these events has revealed to me that year on year on year there’s very strong business community support for charities. It’s amazing, and we should always be aware of what is achieved in Swindon.

“It’s great, and it’s got a great deal of community support. They should be proud of what they do - and that comes from the heart.”

Further information about the Charity Ball is available from its secretary, Sue Harding, on 01793 813147 and at susanjharding@btinternet.com