Laura Barnett, chief executive of Rays of Sunshine, is budgeting for a pandemic induced £1m drop in income this year. In an exclusive interview with Coinslot she explains how Rays has gone into survival mode, what the skeleton staff of five are doing to continue to bring joy and hope to seriously ill children and what the relationship with Bacta means as it plans for the future.
Rays of Sunshine, the award winning national charity that brightens the lives of seriously ill young people and their families by granting wishes and providing ongoing support in hospital and within the community, is preparing itself for a £1 million drop in income this year if it proves impossible to re-arrange events that have been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Rays chief executive, Laura Barnett, confirmed the harsh economic difficulties facing the entire voluntary sector. Asked if she thought the severity of the cash flow crisis threatening charities, described by The Sunday Times as constituting a ‘fundraising apocalypse’ were wide of the mark, she said: “The Covid-19 crisis is having a devastating impact on every organisation in the voluntary sector. Those with charity shops have seen income stop literally overnight and big household names such as Oxfam are reportedly furloughing 1,400 of its 2,100 staff. No one is immune from this, we are operating on a skeleton staff of just five having been forced to furlough 19 of what was already a very lean but an incredibly dedicated team.”
The big fundraising losses have been the London Marathon, scheduled to take place on 26 April and The Rays of Sunshine Gala Dinner, which was due to take place in May. “The Virgin Money London Marathon would have generated in the region of £100,000 in sponsorship and the Gala Dinner which involves our major donors and celebrity ambassadors a further £700,000” confirmed Laura. “The marathon has announced a new date in October but no one knows what the future holds and what the future is going to look like.”
Rays was aiming to complete 700 wishes during 2020 but because of the situation it took the difficult decision to no longer accept any wish applications as of 24th March. Explaining the decision via its web site, Rays of Sunshine told stakeholders: “We understand that this is a challenging and uncertain time for everyone, especially for families caring for a child living with a serious or life-limiting illness. As a charity, we had already decided to postpone all travel wishes until further notice and we are now extending that to any UK-based wishes and events. We will honour these wishes at a later date, when the situation is clearer, and it is considered safe to do so. During this challenging time, we are more committed than ever to supporting our wish families, especially those facing a period of isolation at home or in hospital. Our team are working hard to find alternative ways to bring sunshine to families, when they need it the most.”
Reflecting on the impact of the decision Laura said: “The health and wellbeing of our beneficiaries is our top priority and I’m relieved that we took the decision early to postpone travel based wishes and not therefore be faced with the awful prospect of repatriating vulnerable families from Disney World Florida, for example. We were formed 17-years ago to brighten the lives of children living with serious or life-limiting illnesses so to have to be the bearer of disappointing news and postpone Wishes that may have been in the pipeline for the best part of a year was extremely difficult for myself and for the Rays team.”
The task facing the diminished Rays team is to find ways of continuing a core service and this has involved supplying small gifts to children who are isolated from friends and loved ones in hospital, organising YouTube and Facebook presentations by children’s entertainers and making best use of the charity’s many celebrity ambassadors. Will Rays be able to navigate this crisis and avoid being one of the estimated 100,000 registered good causes that could succumb to what has been described as an existential threat? “I have absolutely no doubt that Rays of Sunshine will continue and will continue to fulfil its mission and its objectives” stated Laura. “We are resourceful, we can work in a crisis situation, we have been financially prudent building up reserves and we are fortunate to have a number of really good partnerships such as the one we enjoy with bacta. For example, Tony and Sarah Glanville have been with us from the very start, James Miller who launched the Tickets2Wishes fundraising scheme is an absolute champion, Tim Batstone climbed Kilimanjaro for us and of course there’s the wonderful Bacta Bikers all of whom have adopted Rays of Sunshine alongside the rank and file Bacta membership.
“What would my message be to bacta members? Obviously a massive thank you for their wonderful support which has raised a magnificent total of £500,000 for the charity since 2011. In the current circumstances we are reliant on your generosity more than ever to continue to bring joy and hope to seriously ill children across the UK.”