Interview with Simon Widdop – Charity Founder and Trustee
Simon’s background is in the catering industry, largely working in pubs and restaurants. As a young student learning his craft at college, he created and physically produced a recipe book, copies of which he then sold to raise money for the Save the Children charity.
What are the charity’s objects?
Broadly, the charity exists to provide emotional and financial support to families in Yorkshire who have children with life-limiting illnesses and disabilities, including respite, person-centred counselling, home modifications and financial support to cover medical equipment and travel costs.
When and why was the charity set up?
While he never imagined being involved in a charity on a formal basis, things changed for Simon and his young family in 2007 when his daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of 5.
Following almost a year in hospital, undertaking various intensive treatments and lifesaving operations, his daughter came home but since then she has faced many complications and additional medical problems. She is now 19 but requires almost constant care and support.
It was after his daughter’s discharge that Simon and his wife began to learn of the challenges they faced in securing the right medical equipment and support. Presented with difficulties in sourcing a range of support aids, such as wheelchairs and adaptions to support packages identified through care plans, lack of funding and long waiting lists were commonplace.
Initially, his family then dedicated time and effort to fundraising for charities, but their own experience, and information gleaned from talking to other families, led Simon to the conclusion that there were gaps in the support network and that support was often unavailable at the time that it was most needed because of funding gaps.
Despite being unaware of the nuances of setting up and registering a charity, Simon resolved to do just that. Simon wanted to create a charity that had a more grassroots feel, a charity that could perhaps more flexibly determine what elements of support it could provide and more innovatively plug those funding gaps.
Countless hours of research and what was a very daunting, almost frightening, challenge reached fruition in March 2011 with the establishment of the Yorkshire Children’s Trust.
What is the structure of the charity?
The charity has a solid structure made up of a board of 5 trustees, along with 2 part-time staff and a core of 10 volunteers.
The charity receives direct applications for assistance as well as referrals from schools, social services and medical professionals. The trustees will make informed decisions on grant and support applications based on their own thorough research and evidence gathering processes.
Where does the charity operate from?
Starting off from Simon’s own kitchen table, the charity then rented a small, open plan office in a multi-occupancy space. As the activities that the charity offers began to broaden, new office space was required and adept negotiation skills saw the charity land a discounted rate on a lease for a 3-storey house on the outskirts of Halifax town centre. The current premises includes meeting rooms, offices and a fully confidential counselling suite.
What does the charity do?
As it set out to do, the charity helps to plug the funding gaps so that support, equipment and financial assistance are provided when needed. Examples of what the charity has thus far provided include funding hydrotherapy treatment, wheelchairs and ramps, ‘hospital stay’ grants to help families cover car parking charges and subsistence costs when staying with their children in hospital and iPads to assist children with educational development.
The charity has also achieved other notable successes. Born out of personal experience of how a child’s illness and disability can affect their brothers and sisters, the charity was intent on providing a service that would help siblings. For this reason, the charity trained existing staff as counsellors in order to be able to offer counselling and play therapy. The move to the existing premises means that is now possible in-house.
In addition, the charity recognised the need for respite to help relieve the emotional and practical pressures of incessant hospital appointments, in-patient stays and seeking out help and support. To that end, the charity initially negotiated substantially discounted rates for a caravan rental to offer breaks to beneficiary families. Subsequently, in order to be able to provide more flexibility around the dates and duration of these respite breaks, the charity now owns a caravan on a small park in Withernsea on the East Coast.
What impact has the Covid19 pandemic had on the charity?
The charity receives no government or NHS funding and relies solely on donations and community support, along with its recycling trading. The charity arranges for collection of households’ unwanted clothes which it then recycles to Europe through a partner organisation. Brexit had meant that business with their existing recycling partner had become financially unviable, so they had just sourced a new partner when Covid19 hit.
They also had to cancel planned fundraising events, such as their annual Easter Egg Appeal for distribution of Easter eggs to children in hospitals across the region. There was also an obvious downturn in donations, particularly from the business community who were also facing financial challenges.
In terms of its activities, the charity has managed to its credit to retain counselling sessions through Skype and Facetime facilities and has continued to send information out to beneficiaries via mailshots.
What are the plans for post-Covid19?
The recovery out of lockdown presents continuing challenges for the charity. Initially, there will have to be an assessment of the impact of the pandemic on the health and wellbeing of beneficiaries and also staff and trustees.
Following that, resumption of visitors to the charity’s premises will have to be closely monitored and the provision of personal protective equipment out of existing budget.
The charity will have to launch a huge drive to secure donors, as it these that are essentially the lifeblood of the charity and the charity is keen to promote the fact that 100% of the financial support it receives is used wholly for its charitable objects.
There are a couple of planned fundraising events that have yet to be cancelled, such as the Jigsaw Festival at the end of August and a music night in October, but the charity is also looking to engage the services of a bid-writing company to help it apply and secure other funding streams.