Representatives of three of Teesside’s most prominent charities say the region needs them more than ever but local businesses have stepped forward in their hour of need.
As a result of damage wreaked by Covid, there’s a huge wave of people suffering increased mental health issues, domestic violence, unemployment and homelessness.
Yet in a perfect storm, the virus causing the increased problems is also preventing charitable organisations from doing their usual work, with events and fundraisers cancelled or indefinitely postponed.
“Covid has been devastating,” said Bianca Robinson, CEO of CEO Sleepout, a Middlesbrough-based national charity set up to fight homelessness and poverty by asking business leaders to give up their beds for the night to raise money and awareness of those who don’t have one.
“Going into 2020, I had 16 live events across the country booked in and we were recruiting for spring events, then suddenly lockdown came,” recalled Bianca, who was speaking during the latest Tees Business Leaders Online Q&A, in association with PD Ports.
“Knowing that we’d raised half a million pounds last year and half a million the year before, I knew it was possible to make close to £1m this year because there was so much momentum building.
“Covid threw a massive spanner in the works, not just for us but for our beneficiaries who need our help more than ever.”
Of course, when the going gets tough, the tough start fighting, and CEO Sleepout was no exception.
“We pivoted our Big Sleepout in June and made it into a virtual event called the Stay at Home Sleepout” added Bianca. “And we are doing the same with our Big Xmas Sleepout.
“There’s a definite keenness to still get out there and do some good.”
Alisdair Beveridge, trustee of Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation, reflected: “The pandemic came out of the blue and blindsided us all.
“Luckily, we were blessed to have good resources and strong foundations. Nothing we usually do hasn’t been touched by Covid, but our patrons have stood by us and others have come onboard.”
As with the CEO Sleepout, the Philanthropic Foundation has seen severa; regular fundraising events go virtual.
“Our biggest event, our annual ball, usually raises around £75,000, much of that from a charity auction, which we still went ahead with virtually,” said Alisdair.
“We’ve collaborated with other charities too, which we may never have done otherwise, and we’ve seen fantastic acts of generosity from patrons who helped put iPads into local hospitals.”
Lauren Bywater, general manager of The High Tide Foundation, revealed: “We lost 50 per cent of our income by not being able to hold our fundraising events.”
High Tide was formed in 2012 with the aim of tackling youth unemployment across the Tees Valley via programmes which raise aspirations, show available job roles and attract young local talent.
“The programmes we run for schools are free, so we rely on corporate donations and fundraising,” she continued. “I really wondered how connected we would remain with our patrons, but we’ve been so impressed by their generosity.
“Jacksons Law, for example, are one of our corporate partners and when we couldn’t hold our annual afternoon tea, they organised a virtual one for us.
“It really lifted our spirts and made us realise that we had to be more creative in our efforts.
“Another corporate partner agreed to still make his donation, despite not being able to bring any clients to our events – something he had really enjoyed doing.
“He told me: ‘It’s not about what we can get out of High Tide, it’s what we can put in. I believe in what you’re doing for The Tees Valley and I know that you need this money now more than ever.’
“The way people and businesses have put their hands in their pockets for us at this tough time has been amazing.”
• Tees Business Leaders was sponsored by PD Ports, owners of Tees Port, one of the UK’s fastest-growing ports.