Lisa Symonds meets Margo Cornish, the creator of acclaimed charity fashion event Runway on the Runway, and discovers what drives her to raise vital funds for, and awareness of teenage cancer…
The event launched in 2013 and is a glamorous show-stopper – a prom-themed fashion show staged beneath the wingspan of the iconic Concorde at Manchester Airport. The clothes are donated by generous high-end designers, the models are local school kids and young people living with cancer. To date, it’s raised an incredible £150,000 for Teenage Cancer Trust.

Inspired to change lives

Margo moved to Cheshire 13 years ago, when her husband Charlie started work at United Utilities, later landing his current role as CEO for the Manchester Airport Group. A few years later, her four children were grown up and a career in human resources was on hold, but the strong work ethic of this warm, friendly Glaswegian meant the “lady of leisure” lifestyle simply wasn’t an option.

She became a ‘wishmaker’ for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and two things stood out during her encounters with many young cancer patients:
“Firstly, their wishes were often about doing something to feel normal and good about themselves again,” recalls Margo. “A lot of them lose their self-confidence because of the treatment, and they can be left feeling disconnected and socially isolated. Secondly, many described a delay in diagnosis; GPs initially putting complaints down to a sporting injury or growing pains, tiredness was thought to be anaemia. They go back and forth before anyone realises it’s serious. Sometimes, it can be too late.”
Margo decided she not only wanted to make the North West’s younger generation more body aware and raise vital funds, but make those living with cancer feel special again.

Runway takes flight

Inspired by her three daughters’ excitement for all things prom-related, and recognising fashion appeals to a cross-section of teens, Runway on the Runway was born. Gariff, a local joinery manufacturing company based in Trafford, created a custom-built catwalk for free and, never one to think small, Margo approached big-name designers and stores, such as Ted Baker, Lipsy, boohoo, Little Mistress, Debenhams, Slaters and Diamante, and they all said yes. She fashioned a team of dedicated helpers and brought on board respected Mancunian choreographer Anne Finnegan and, most recently, the hugely talented Music Director Monica Ward. When recruiting male and female models from local schools, the brief was – and still is – simple:

“The kids have got to look like they come from Manchester, not straight out of London Fashion Week,” smiles Margo.

“Personality and the ability to move in time to music is more important than a skinny size six.”

Each participating team is responsible for its own fundraising. Those who don’t grace the catwalk attend masterclasses at Trevor Sorbie and Benefit at Harvey Nichols, gaining money-can’t-buy experience in hair and make-up.

A special finale

The Teenage Cancer Trust catwalk has closed all three Runway on the Runways to date, and places ten teen models living with cancer in the spotlight. Incredibly emotional, it always receives a standing ovation:

“The kids are always absolutely amazing – they feel normal again and inspire others currently going through treatment,” beams Margo. “The finale says, ‘you can get better. You can get back to normal’. I love that all the models stay in touch, go out together and continue to support each other beyond the event.”

Many of the dresses are donated by internationally-acclaimed Sherri Hill, creator of outrageously pretty prom dresses. After the first event, Margo was ready to return the incredible garments. Instead, Sherri said: “We don’t want them back. We want you to give them to girls who are going through treatment, or use them to raise funds”. The Cinderella Project was launched, with Margo and her team giving young girls undergoing treatment dream makeovers, the remaining garments are sold in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust.

Manchester makes it happen

Runway on the Runway, stresses Margo, is a team effort and wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of the North West.
“Manchester and the North West are such amazing places,” says Margo. “I’ve met so many wonderful people since I came here. I feel that I’m an adopted Mancunian, the city is very special to me. I think the recent terrorist attack highlighted the true Mancunian spirit – the warmth and generosity of the community here.”

In 2015, Margo had accompanied a young girl living with cystic fibrosis to the Manchester Arena, the Make-A-Wish Foundation having arranged for her to watch her pop idol Ariana Grande and meet her backstage. Margo is emotional:
“Ariana was a lovely soul. It could have been any of us there. After the bombing, I got the bee tattoo – to remind me of the tragedy and how fragile life can be, it has special poignancy and I’m very proud of it.”