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Hard times as Midlands charities face funding blackhole

By Thomas Parkes | Cannock | Coronavirus | Published:

Charities across the Midlands have seen income “fall off a cliff” amid coronavirus – with fundraising events either cancelled or postponed.

Newlife CEO and co-founder Sheila Brown with the stock which is piling up.

But charity bosses are determined to help the most vulnerable in need as much as they can with every last penny they have.

Cannock-based Newlife, which helps families with disabled and terminally ill children across the UK, has been one of the hardest hit.

Bosses have been forced to furlough around 90 per cent of the staff – and have “fallen through the net” due to not being eligible for Government funds.

Sheila Brown OBE, co-founder and CEO of Newlife, said: “The number of applications for emergency help to provide equipment to get children out of hospital has doubled. And, of course, the income has fallen off a cliff – we have a small bit of income from eBay but all of our stores have closed.

Newlife CEO and co-founder Sheila Brown.

“Fundraising events and other events have been cancelled and we’ve been really badly affected by this. It’s extremely hard when you’ve built every nut and bolt and you see it like this – we just want to continue to help children across the UK. I go into the store and there’s no customers, no staff and it’s very quiet. But it’s all part of what you have to do.”

Stock is continuing to pile up at the charity – donated from retail firms – which has led to them taking on two new spaces in a bid to hold the items, which they are struggling to sell.

The charity, which is a statutory service, isn’t commissioned by officials to do so – making them exempt from a slice of £750 million.

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But Mrs Brown said she had been in “really close” talks with Government officials over funding. She said: “It looked like we were barred from applying because we provide a service the state provide – but they don’t – and we pick up that tab. I’m pleased to say they have been listening to our unique situation and we’re in talks with them to ensure we will be eligible for some more funding. It doesn’t mean we’ll get it – but at least we can try.”

Newlife CEO and co-founder Sheila Brown.

The mother-of-three, who was awarded an OBE for services to child health, said every charity was finding it difficult.

“You look around in the charity sector and so many charities have mothballed – they’ve just gone into a minimum mode setting,” she said. “And what we’re hearing from families is that they still need help and that’s why we’ve kept our helpline open.”

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Closing its stores – including one in Market Drayton – and cancelling fundraising events have led to a predicted financial black hole of £1.2m.

Mrs Brown said: “We’re still desperately short of money and in the next couple of weeks I guess we will run out of equipment to supply. So if we don’t get the funds we will have to close – and that would be absolutely heartbreaking.”

The CEO said the charity is looking for volunteers for when lockdown is over to help them reopen fully.

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Hope House Children’s Hospices offer supports across Shropshire, Cheshire and Mid and North Wales for families who are either caring for a terminally ill child, or whose child has died. And the charity is among others finding it tough – with closed shops and cancelled fundraising events leading to a predicted £1.5 million black hole. But they are continuing to run their vital services for people most in need.

Chief executive Andy Goldsmith said: “We’re fully operational and we’ve adopted new ways of working to ensure the children who come to the hospices are safe.

“It was a massive challenge for us to personal protective equipment (PPE) at first but we’ve resolved those issues and both hospices are open, providing end of life care.

“We’ve moved a lot of our services online and we call families, who are at home, to check up on them and to see if we can do anything. We provide bereavement support – which is usually face-to-face – but we’ve had to give that support over the phone as well.

“It’s about still providing a service, which is difficult, and there’s still a lot of fear about coronavirus – families are concerned their child or loved ones will contract the virus, so they’re frightened to come into the hospice.

“They’re concerned and so we’re working to reassure those who need to come in that it is safe.”

Newlife CEO and co-founder Sheila Brown with the stock which is piling up.

Mr Goldsmith said it was also a frightening prospect for children as well – due to staff wearing protective masks and gowns, rather than a polo shirt and cargo trousers. Shops have remained closed since March 22, the day before lockdown was announced, with no money being raised – potentially leading to a funding black hole of £1.5 million.

“Income has ceased entirely entirely because of the virus,” he said.

“I don’t think we will recover this year financially because we can’t make the ground up – especially with whatever restrictions are in place.

“I don’t know what the big impact will be for the full year, but we could be looking at £3m overall this year.”

The charity runs Hope House in Oswestry, Tŷ Gobaith just outside Conwy, and operates two counselling centres.

Donate at newlifecharity.co.uk or hopehouse.org.uk

Thomas Parkes

By Thomas Parkes
Trainee Reporter - @TParkes_Star

Trainee reporter at the Express & Star, based in Wolverhampton. Got a story? Get in touch at thomas.parkes@expressandstar.co.uk.

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