Charities across the Wear region have faced the double whammy of less income and more demand for their services during the Covid-19 pandemic.
But despite those strains, a combination of cost-cutting, innovation and sheer determination looks likely to see them through the current crisis.
That was the verdict of charity experts on our regular Wear Business Leaders’ online debate this week.
Michelle Cooper, chief executive of the County Durham Community Foundation, Laura Forbes, corporate fundraiser for the Grace House Appeal and Dominic McDonough, funding events manager for IfUCareShare, were our guests on Wear Business Leaders chat, sponsored by FW Capital.
And all three were in agreement that while the work of Wear charities has never been more needed, those same charities are under real pressure.
Lockdown, in particular, produced almost insurmountable challenges initially.
Laura revealed: “It hit us from both sides.
“We offer parents’ respite care and are very much hands-on and face-to-face when it comes to what we deliver and all of a sudden that was immensely challenging because of the PPE and self-isolation and so on.
“So that was a massive challenge that I’m pleased to say we got through.
For the latest Wear Business Leaders webchat this week, our co-editor Graeme Anderson was joined by Michelle Cooper,…
“But then we were also hit on the fundraising side too, having to pretty much tear up every one of our fundraising events we had planned because nothing could go ahead.
“It was a huge change and we lost about £30,000 we could have expected from events, which is huge for a small charity like ours and we had to look at getting everything we could switch to online.
Dominic, at IfUCareShare echoed Laura’s experience, admitting: “Our funding basically fell off a cliff overnight.
“We had events which we had to cancel and not just fundraising ones.
“A big part of what we do is bring families who might have lost loved ones – for example, we have an event called the Walk of Light where we walk and see a sunrise which brings people together but we couldn’t do that this year.
“We are looking at how we can do things a different way but it’s not quite the same thing.
“And at the same time as this has been happening, demand for our services has understandably gone through the roof.
“We are an organisation looking to help those who feel suicidal or have suffered from the effects of and we have got families and individuals who are struggling more than ever.
“We have seen a rise in phone calls reaching out to us by more than 275%.so we know that while we are stretched, we are needed more than ever.
“The North East already has the biggest suicide rate in the country and now, with the health, financial, emotional and social problems created by Covid_19, we fear things could get even worse.”
Michelle Cooper’s County Durham Community Foundation exists to support charities like Grace House and IfUCareShare, by raising and distributing funds across County Durham and beyond.
She said: “We are part of a UK-wide national funding programme.
“More than £100m has been raised to circulate across the UK and we have led efforts to distribute those funds in our area.
“We have distributed just over £1.2m locally.
“Typically the grants have been £5,000 and £10,000 towards groups – as Laura and Dominic explained so clearly – to help them adapt their services really quickly.
“We’ve funded lots of laptops and tablets to help with digital connection, for example, and have charities scale up their own scales when it comes to their own digital skills.
“We’ve been assisting food banks in terms of their increasing staff costs because of growing demand for their services.
“So it has been a pretty amazing spell and, all in all, we’ve been able to help 300 charities across the region.”
All three agree that emerging from the current crisis and avoiding a second wave remains the top priority but that the support of the local business community will be crucial in sustaining the strength of charities.
Laura said: “The support we get from business is vital.
“It tends to come either as one-off support or a long-standing partnership.
“Either is welcome but those longer-term supporters in business are the ones that really make the difference.
“It’s a well-known fact that the public look more kindly on businesses that support charities and particularly local charities, so it is an attractive selling point for them.”
Dominic said: “By the nature of what we do around mental health, it is very, very relevant to the business world and we are happy to go into companies and do chats and talks about what they can do to help themselves and each other.”
Michelle says that the County Durham Community Foundation will seek to underpin those efforts and the continuing links with businesses.
She said: “We have had unprecedented support from the big corporates over the last few months and that has been notable.
“But we will look to continue developing and supporting funds for charities.
“We are very lucky in the North East in having a choice – you can either support one particular charity or you can go through a Community Foundation which can place your money where it can make a big difference.
“What we can do is to give small amounts to the grassroots charities – and literally thousands of those grassroots charities exist – but we can also co-ordinate money in a way in which your donation can be turned into so much more by perhaps putting it with other donations to make important strategic differences.”
• If you like to know more about the work done by the charities supported by our three guests, you can learn more about the County Durham Community Foundation at cdcf.org.uk, the Grace House Appeal at gracehouse.co.uk and IfUCareShare at ifucareshare.co.uk.
• Wear Business Leaders is produced in association with FW Capital.
Through the Tees Valley Catalyst Fund, FW Capital can offer funding of up to £2m to help businesses across the North East bid for new contracts.
Through the North East Property Fund, they can offer funding up to £1m to construction companies and property developers who have struggled to access development finance from traditional lenders.
For more details, click on the links below: