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Northern Ireland’s charities face funding crisis

Northern Ireland’s charities face funding crisis

Northern Ireland’s charities and social enterprises have appealed to government and the general public to help them survive with many facing financial meltdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Traditional fund-raising has dried up with the closure of charity shops, childcare centres and cafes and the enforced cancellation of sponsored events from marathons to coffee mornings.

It has been estimated that across the UK these losses will amount to £4.3 billion over the next 12 weeks.

Nora Smith Chief Executive of CO3 which represents charity bosses said: “Charities exist to protect the most vulnerable people in society, so when we struggle it is harder to help them, and when charities close down those that so desperately need them go without.”

CO3 is one of a group of charitable representative bodies including Social Enterprise N (SENI), the Rural Community Network (RCN), the Community Foundation for NI and Northern Ireland Environment Link (NIEL) that is calling for Stormont to step in.

Colin Jess at SENI highlighted “The Scottish government has set up a £20 million Resilience Fund to help charities and the Department for Communities has pledged a support fund here.  We need a similar financial support programme for charities and social enterprises”. 

Kate Clifford from RCN said: “These are desperate times and nobody wants to see organisations that do such good work go to the wall. The Communities Minister has taken a strong, positive stance and we need the rest of government to follow. ”

The impact across Northern Ireland has been devastating for charities and the many thousands who depend on them. Community centres which are such a vital hub have been closed. Face to face sessions for older people, those who need counselling and youth services cannot operate and those charities offering food banks are facing shortages. The entire arts section has shut down.

Andrew McCracken with CFNI commented “We’re all doing the best we can. Where we can’t work face to face with people we’re offering online and telephone support. However, many of the most vulnerable people don’t have access to the internet.”

Craig McGuicken at NIEL added “Many charities now face severe cash flow problems. Their funding is drying up – and where it does exist we need funders to be flexible and help us to offer support to vulnerable people and places in different ways. Collectively charities employ 45,000 people in Northern Ireland making the Third Sector an important but too often neglected sector in the economy. We must be helped to survive.”

 “The one bright light in these dark times has been the astonishing response of the general public to the pandemic. There has been a remarkable resurgence of kindness everywhere. There are signs that we will emerge from this with a stronger community spirit. In the meantime please let’s make sure that our great charities survive.”


Statements shared from CO3 members on the impact of Covid-19

Gareth Kirk Chief Executive, Action Cancer whilst welcoming the current support available from government for furloughed workers, stated that without it the future of the charity would be extremely bleak. As  matters currently stand the future is looking extremely challenging not just for Action Cancer but  for everyone in the sector.  Few if any charities will be able to pick up where they left off, wholesale changes  are already inevitable.   Without a long term financial  support package from Government, particularly for those charities previously reliant on fund raising to deliver free services to the end user, the prognosis is particularly bleak.  A decision from Government is required urgently, this cannot wait until the contagion has passed. Charities need to be planning and modelling options for their future now,  but to do so requires some certainty from Government that they are committed partners with the sector for the long term and not just for now. 

Janet Schofield Chief Executive CAN.  CAN is a user-led organisation working in more rural reaches who have huge impact.  Of the 450 young people and adults with learning disabilities, autism and mental health issues they work with, almost 50% have services and activities provided daily under normal circumstances.  CAN are currently phoning 175 plus individuals daily, running an interactive session daily and providing emergency support where needed  As our Social Enterprises, CAN Can Recycling and CAN Can Bazaar (2 x previously loved shops in Ballymoney and Ballymena) generate about a fifth of our income, we had to Furlough our staff connected to this.   We applied for the government grant but because we do not pay rates, have been told we will be ineligible.  We have approximately 4 months reserves and my fear is that our money may run out before this crisis does….we have risen to the challenge and partnered with the Food Bank and Advice NI to deliver critical emergency services and a responsive waste management solution from food retailers (to keep them moving) but our survival depends on being able to access critical funding during this period to secure our future."

Phil Alexander, Cancer Fund for Children “Cancer, and how it affects children and their families, will not stop during this unprecedented crisis. We will do our best to continue to support these families in the weeks and months ahead. However, at Cancer Fund for Children, 90% of our income is a direct result of fundraising made possible by the generosity of the public. With fundraising events cancelled and corporate and community fundraising at a standstill, this will have a catastrophic impact on the whole sector. When this crisis is over the issues and needs that charities address will still remain and our services will be needed more than ever.”

Heather Weir, NI Hospice “Every year Hospice supports over 4000 babies, children and adults with life-limiting or life-threatening conditions as well as their families. The Now More Than Ever Appeal is asking the public to support Hospice during this unprecedented time in history.  The spread of COVID-19 has already had a devastating impact on the charity’s income. With fundraising events postponed and charity shops closed, the funds that Hospice heavily relies on have stopped. Chief Executive, Heather Weir explained that the prospect of an estimated loss of £10m by the end of 2020”

Andrew Irvine, Chief Executive of East Belfast Mission said:  “We are extremely grateful to government, both nationally and here in Northern Ireland, for the unprecedented way they have stepped-in to find additional financial support as great speed.   That said, these crisis financial interventions have been needed because of the untenable way that Third Sector organisations, including charities like EBM, have been funded to deliver public services. The sector has been warning the Northern Ireland Civil Service about this for some years.   Third Sector public service providers have been treated as the ‘poor relation’ in the current public service funding model, leaving us to try and make-up public sector under-funding from our Charity Shops and other social economy businesses.  This funding model, which is also morally questionable, has left many in the sector facing insolvency in the current crisis.  Most abhorrently, this has put our vulnerable Service Users at huge risk.  Further, it has created job insecurity across the Third Sector, for employees already on much poorer Terms and Conditions than the Civil Servants who control the funding.  There MUST be a complete re-think of the system on the other side of COVID-19.”

Joan McGinn, Chief Executive, Orchardville Society Ltd. Orchardville, a registered charity and social enterprise, is committed to changing the lives of people with learning disability and autism.  The current coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on our organisation. All face to face activity with participants has stopped temporarily and all 5 of our social enterprises have temporarily ceased trading. The loss of trading income is a major concern both in terms of cash flow but also in terms of building up our customer base and generating sales when the crisis is over.

We welcome some of the initiatives that have been put in place such as the government job retention scheme as we believe that our employees are our most valuable resource and we are committed to supporting them in this difficult situation. Our social enterprises operate as businesses competing with other commercial businesses and we would ask that the business relief fund is made available to all businesses, including social enterprises.

Joe McVey, Chief Executive, Brain Injury Matters (NI).  Like all voluntary organisations our priority is meeting the needs of our clients . Providing services , support and encouragement to those living with an acquired brain injury is particularly important at this time and will continue to be so as we move through and out of the crisis. However, providing services comes at a  cost that we meet through a range of funding activities, relying on the generosity of the public, community and private sector supporters. As with many voluntary organisations such as fundraising work is on hold which has a major impact on our ability to deliver now and in the coming year. As with other sectors what is needed is a clear and united statement of the need for support across the Third Sector and flexible and generous response from the Treasury and the Executive to ensure that the Third Sector can play its part in responding to the crisis and is still in business as we move into recovery.

This press release has featured in the following publications:
Daily Mail
Belfast Telegraph
Irish News
Evening Express