WATCH: Disability Shetland trustees say future bleak unless vital funds are raised
Disability Shetland, the charity for the disabled of all ages, is facing the prospect of closure unless it can raise more cash, trustees have said.
There is no possibility of additional funding from sources such as Shetland Islands Council and Shetland Charitable Trust.
That is the view of Disability Shetland fundraiser Sandy Peterson and George McGhee, who recently joined the charity’s trust.
Speaking to The Shetland Times they also said that major applications to Children in Need and the National Lottery had been unsuccessful.
They paid tribute to local people for helping the charity raise £60,000 in the past year. That generosity has saved Disability Shetland from any immediate crisis, though the trustees accept the public is unlikely to maintain such an effort in the long-term.
The pair also said that Disability Shetland is very grateful to both the council and the trust following meetings with both organisations last week.
While both had been “completely sympathetic” to the charity, it was clear that their hands are tied by budgets.
“I think when they can [help] they will, but budgets are so tight just now,” Mr McGhee said of the possibility of the council and charitable trust increasing their contributions.
It appears that the philosophy of “those who have, will get more” also applies to the charitable world, at least where the big national funders are concerned, Mr Peterson claimed.
Council and charitable trust money has gone towards funding holiday clubs and specific things for adult services. The trust has funded the Monday night adult club with about £12,000 and £13,000 a year, “for a long time” but will not increase its input beyond that.
Mr Peterson added: “The council have been fairly flexible and some of the other funders are quite tight on having to use money for specific purposes and you have to report back accordingly; which is fair enough, it is perfectly right that we should have to account for it.
“At least with the council and charitable trust you can go and speak to them. You might not like what they have to say, but at least they understand where we are coming from.
“We can go to the council and say quite honestly to them, ‘we may not be able to continue’. It is a conversation we can have with them and it is a realistic prospect.”
Mr McGhee said: “The council and the charitable trust are the only two that have stuck by us. We have lost huge funding from Children in Need and the Big Lottery.”
One of the biggest frustrations is the time it takes, and the number of hoops that have to be jumped through, between applying to the big national organisations and hearing the outcome.
One application to the lottery took 18 months from the day of submission to final rejection.
The Scottish government, by contrast, had been very quick at providing a response, whether positive or negative.
Mr McGhee said: “Things are tight. We had applied to Children in Need and the lottery for somewhere in the region of £150,000 to £200,000 for a three to five-year period and got absolutely nothing.
“When we asked reasons why or how we could improve our applications we were told nothing really; that the application was excellent.”
Mr Peterson said: “Clearly you are disappointed when you do not get money anyway. When you have gone through 18 months of doing lots of exercises, writing lots of bids, being willing to respond to everything they ask for and then to be honest it [the rejection] just comes in a phone call.
“They will give you some kind of reasons, but I used to be an English teacher and I know when folk are using words to tell you absolutely nothing.
“We have had to guess why we do not get money from them and one of our conclusions, if you listen to what they say, is that if you are financially vulnerable, if they think you are not guaranteed to continue, they will not give you money.
“It’s that funny world where if it feels you have money you will get money. If you do not have money you will get none.https
“We are seriously trying to review everything in order to try and make ourselves look less vulnerable. It is easy for us to moan about everyone else, but we have to make sure that our house is in order.”
Mr McGhee added: “Every trustee, everyone who is involved with it, wants Disability Shetland to survive. It will mean cutting our costs.
“We do not think we are in any way wasteful of money, but the truth is folk expect us to be even leaner and meaner … and we are looking at how we can achieve that…”
According to Mr Peterson, the charity had perhaps become too reliant on a few big grants while treating its self-raised funds as the “icing on a cake built by the council and the charitable trust.”
He added: “At the moment we are okay because we have done a lot of local fundraising and we have grants from the Scottish government and the Robertson Trust for things like better breaks, but it is a very small amount that is coming in from outside.
“We kind of relied on fairly big grants, from the council obviously, and it was kind of an assumption that would be topped up. Last year Children in Need gave us about £15,000 for one year, which was probably half of what we asked for, and they did not extend it beyond one year…
“The irony of all this is we are serving far more folk at present while spending a helluva lot less money than five years ago.”
Mr Peterson also praised the “really outstanding club leaders” who help make the organisation tick and said that it has been getting better at promoting itself and making connections in schools and in social work.
To that end the charity is seeking all the help and publicity it can get “and a photo on the front page of The Shetland Times is worth a few thousand pounds,” said Mr Peterson.
“By the end of this week we will have raised £60,000 ourselves in the last year, purely and simply from within Shetland,” he said.
Mr McGhee added: “If we did not have that £60,000, we would not be having this conversation. The difference at the moment between our survival and our non survival is the Shetland public.
“We cannot express our gratitude highly enough. I always knew Shetland is a generous place: for everything; Shetland give to Clan, they give to Children in Need, and the fact they still find the wherewithal to support us as a local charity, where all the money is actually staying within Shetland for the benefit of the youngest to the oldest, is remarkable.”
Disability Shetland has two salaried co-ordinators, one for the adult service and one for children’s services and club leaders who are self-employed and paid by the hour, plus a big squad of volunteers.
Its fundraising stunts this year have included the West Highland Way walk, the Kilimanjaro challenge, the Aroond in Circles event, which raised about £5,000, the Glasgow Half Marathon and there will be the Aberdeen Half Marathon in the new year.
Mr Peterson said: “If anybody gives me £100 or £20 I can tell them exactly what that will pay for in the next few weeks; how many clubs that will run, and folk like that. They can see what it is doing.
“Personally I work at our clubs every week as a volunteer. I have always worked with young people all my life so I thought the best thing I could do was get to know exactly what we are doing. I know our clients, most of our young folk.”
Mr McGhee said: “It’s the same for the adult services as well. Since coming on, Sandy’s taken me around to various things and seeing the look of enjoyment in people and how they are all enjoying joining in; it is obvious, or we hope it’s obvious, that they gain a lot from it and it’s an important part of their social calendar.”
The “very successful” Monday club takes in about 30 adults “from the ages of 17 to 80”. Disability Shetland has clubs in Unst, Yell, North Roe and Urafirth as well as the Lerwick ones.
“If people in other communities would like to find out about starting to set up something within
their own communities, they are welcome to come to us,” said Mr McGhee.
The holiday club for young folk in summer, Easter and October is “amazingly popular” with the young people, their carers and parents as well.
It is inspected by the care inspectorate,” said Mr Peterson. “That’s why we need to have a level of professionalism and professionalism you cannot do without spending money.”
Joyce Henderson also thanked the individuals and businesses for their “incredible generosity” and support of the Aroond in Circles event, on behalf of the Disability Shetland trustees.
“As well as improving our finances, this has the psychological effect of encouraging us to keep battling through our current troubles, with some major funders from outside Shetland having withdrawn their financial support this year,” said Miss Henderson.