Times tough for charities as Covid effects start to bite *H&H Plus*

  • Charities were facing a tough time even before the second lockdown was announced. H&H speaks to welfare organisations large and small to find out how the pandemic has hit their work, and what happens next

    CHARITIES are facing a tough ask as the reality of the economic impact of Covid starts to bite, even before the second lockdown.

    Welfare charities have taken significant financial hits as the vast majority of in-person fundraising events have been forced to cancel and visitors have been restricted, and charity shops have also faced periods of enforced closure.

    This all comes at a time when many are under additional pressure or demand for their services as a result of the pandemic, and many are lobbying the government for more support. While they are all finding new ways to allow them to continue vital work, charities big and small are highlighting the stark realities and just how much difference even small gestures can make.

    Lynn Cutress, chief executive of Redwings, which employs more than 300 staff and is responsible for more than 2,000 equines, said Covid has had a “profound impact”.

    “The temporary closure of our visitor centres meant we saw a loss of income of over £250,000, while the cancellation of events like the county shows, the increasing costs of PPE and an 11% rise in internal welfare costs, such as the running of our horse hospital alone (around £1m a year), have further tightened budgets,” she told H&H.

    “While we’ve always been a very financially prudent organisation, as a charity 100% funded by donations from the public, this year’s extremely challenging turn of events has meant Redwings will now be operating at a deficit for months or even years to come.”

    The charity has used furlough (“it’s been incredibly useful”) and joined its voice to a number of others appealing to the Government for more sector-specific funding.

    “The pandemic arrived in the middle of what was already an incredibly challenging welfare landscape,” said Ms Cutress.

    “Throughout it all we were determined we would not stop rescuing horses despite the pandemic.”

    Redwings has taken in more than 130 horses and ponies this year and its vets and officers have continued to assist in large-scale multi-agency operations.


    Like many other charities, it had to suspend rehoming between March and May, with knock-on effects including using external boarding for some intakes. Redwings has rehomed 49 ponies since the programme restarted, with “project ponies” in particular demand.

    Ms Cutress thanked “every single one” of the charity’s staff for their “incredible creativity and innovation” enabling the charity’s work to continue safely and the supporters who have helped them through with donations including feed, carrots, rugs and even bicycles.

    The Mare & Foal Sanctuary in Devon faced a loss of revenue between March and June of around £160,000. Its income dropped overnight following the enforced closure of charity shops and the sanctuary had to furlough 25 staff.

    Saturday’s (31 October) announcement means that it is again facing closure of its shops, from today (5 November), but both the online store on its website and its eBay charity shop remain open.

    “We need all the support we can get to sustain our sanctuary, especially now our charity shops are temporarily closing once again,” fundraising director Dawn Vincent told H&H.

    Sue Burton, founder of Remus Horse Sanctuary in Essex, believes the charity is facing a funding gap “in excess of £337,000” owing to cancelled events and fundraising activities. The deficit is estimated at around £10,500 a week.

    “As always, we are deeply indebted for everyone’s support. Every winter is tough due to the spiralling costs, but this year will be extremely difficult. We implore the public for help. If they can’t donate, we really hope they can shop with us,” said Ms Burton.

    Communities For Horses in South Wales works directly with communities to prevent welfare issues and has been hit to the point that its salaried equine welfare officer role is at risk.

    “We work in one of the most deprived areas of the country and the people we work with have been severely impacted by the pandemic. As a result, they need our support more than ever,” a spokesman for the charity told H&H.

    “We are a very small charity relying on in-person fundraising and network building and have been hugely affected in terms of fundraising by the challenges that Covid has thrown at us. In addition to that, the demand for our services has increased.

    “Some of our funding has typically been through grants and this year there has been a huge increase in competition for funds, which has had a significant impact on charities. For us personally, this lack of funds in practice has put our role of equine officer in jeopardy. We will continue to do what we can, but without the funding it is really difficult.”

    Sally Crawford, executive director of engagement and income generation at Bransby Horses in Lincolnshire, told H&H the charity is forecasting a loss of £500k this year.

    “This does include the flood impact (on farming in particular), but I think it’s important to include this as we’ve gone from one crisis in November 2019, straight into another in March 2020,” she said, adding that the figure would have been higher without the furlough scheme, local government grants, careful managing of spending and cutting back on all but essential capital investment.

    She added the closure of the visitor centre, shop and cafe from March to July had a significant impact on its trading income, on-site donations and sponsorships.

    “The charity relies heavily on income received through gifts in wills each year and due to an anticipated six- to 12-month backlog at the Probate Registry, we expect this to have an impact on our cash flow,” she said.

    “It’s fair to say that we expect Covid to have an impact well into 2021, especially for our legacy income and should we experience further lockdowns and restrictions on our ability to trade.”

    The rehoming halt meant the number of equines Bransby was able to rehome was down around 30% earlier this year, and the charity is working to get back on track.

    “Our teams will continue to be there for horses in need during the lockdown period and beyond into the winter through our rescue work,” said Emma Carter, Bransby executive director of equine welfare. “There is a concern across the charity sector about the demand for our services with the economic impact of Covid-19, putting horses at risk and the overload for charities, which have been stretched for capacity for the last five years.”

    Bransby has more than 350 horses across two sites and has split its teams in two so that if one has to self-isolate, the other can pick up the care.

    “Working safely through Covid-19 has been our biggest challenge ever. Our teams have been fantastic though, and their caring and compassion for the horses and each other still inspires me every day,” Emma said.

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