THE chief executive of the Southern Area Hospice has spoken of how humbled the organisation is at the amount of support it has received despite hundreds of planned fundraising events being cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Like so many charity organisations, the Newry based facility - which has provided a lifeline to so many families during their darkest days - has been facing a financial struggle since the government imposed its lockdown restrictions in March.
Over the years, the hospice has relied heavily on the many events organised by kind hearted members of the community to keep the resource available.
While the hospice was given a £1.1million funding package from the Executive just two weeks ago, to help with the current financial challenges it is facing, chief executive Liz Cuddy told the Ulster Gazette: “Without doubt March was a very worrying month for us in hospice.”
“Overnight, we went from planning some of our flagship campaigns and events to postponing them – for example: the Big Bucket street collection which would have raised up to £30,000; our London Marathon; and the Car Raffle,” Mrs Cuddy said.
“These type of events are the life blood of fundraising at this time of the year.
“Without these events and others that our supporters organise on our behalf, we saw, for the first time in memory, days where literally no money came through our door.
“Given what was going on around us this was no surprise, but our beds were still full, we had patients and families who needed us - probably more than ever - and we needed to raise money to pay our staff and our other bills to run the hospice.”
Mrs Cuddy said the hospice turned to the community they serve for help and after asking for donations, they were not disappointed.
“We have been humbled by the support we have received,” she said.
“We often hear it said that ‘bad times bring out the best in people’ and we certainly have seen this.
“Despite being in lockdown, many of our supporters have found unique ways to raise money for us - our Hospice Heroes from Home.
“We have had Hairless for Hospice, the 5k Challenge, Walk a Day in May, marathons run in back gardens and a virtual Skip Car Tour, to name a few.
“The creativity is brilliant but it is the goodwill involved in them that is key; people are supporting each other and us, and going out of their way to help.
“We have also been overwhelmed by donations of PPE, hand sanitiser and other supplies to help us through the current situation.
“Support has been forthcoming from individuals, community groups and from organisations.
“The sense of community is fantastic and it is wonderful to be a part of it all.
“The spring and summer months are when a lot of our events happen.
“This month we should have had over 50 individuals taking part in our Sky Dive, held our Annual Ladies’ Lunch, seen the first group of the year walking the Camino, and had many other community events taking place.
“Whilst hospice does receive some annual financial support from the Department of Health, we rely heavily on fundraising - for every £1 we spend to deliver our services, we need to fundraise 68p of this.”
Mrs Cuddy said in order to continue functioning, the hospice needs to raise £3.1million every year, which on average is £260,000 each month.
“All of the above events were planned to contribute to this target so, without these and uncertainty over when we can recommence events and campaigns, we still have very worrying times ahead,” she said.
“This is our reality, and no matter what else is going on around us, we need to focus on raising these funds as it is absolutely certain that the need for our services will continue and we are committed to delivering them for our patients and families.
“We were fortunate and thankful to receive emergency support through the Northern Ireland Executive last week.
“This is to help compensate for three months’ loss of fundraising income, income from our charity shops being closed, as well as the additional costs we have incurred in relation to continuing to operate in a safe and appropriate manner during the pandemic.
“For many years, all hospices throughout Northern Ireland have been in discussions with the Department of Health with a view to having our annual grant increased to a more appropriate level.
“The recent discussions with the Department of Finance and Department of Health around the emergency support has highlighted to them the need for the ongoing funding arrangements to be urgently reviewed to ensure these are fair and appropriate.
“We have welcomed a commitment that has been made to have this review completed in the near future.
“Whilst government funding is important, Southern Area Hospice as a local charity will continue to rely on the goodwill and support of our local community to enable us to continue to deliver our services and to develop these appropriately to meet changing needs - as well as recognising we need additional help at this time.
“In addition to suspending fundraising activity, we regrettably also had to temporarily suspend some of our community services, such as our day-care, to ensure we act in line with the government and public health guidance to keep our patients and staff safe.
“We are currently reviewing the revised guidance that the Northern Ireland Executive have released earlier this week to understand what this means for the re-commencement of our fundraising events and suspended services.
“Our Inpatient Unit has been, and continues to be, fully operational however.
“We revised our ways of working to ensure the safety of our staff and patients whilst allowing relatives to continue to visit, albeit in a restricted manner.
“All of us at Southern Area Hospice Services would like to take this opportunity to reach out and thank everyone who has supported us - we will forever be in your debt and we ask you to stay with us.
“This crisis is not over and we will all be feeling its effects for some time.
“As we move forward through these next months, we do not know what they will bring but we do know that we are part of a community that rallies around when help is needed.
“We are so fortunate to have your support, we do not take it for granted and we are truly grateful to everyone who has helped us during these very challenging times,” Mrs Cuddy added.
l Anyone wishing to donate £10 to the Southern Area Hospice should text CARE to 70004.