COVID-19

Michael McGrath: CEO, The Muscle Help Foundation

[COVID-19 statement updated 20.06.22]

Since March 2020 (now 27 months ago), the COVID-19 crisis has affected many charities across the country, not least in how they operate. For some, service delivery plans have changed dramatically. Below is my updated statement giving further insights into what the charity’s focus and future plans are through until the end of Feb 2023 ie. the end of the charity’s fiscal year.

In this new 2022/23 period, the focus will be to make sure that we remain on mission, serving the needs of our vulnerable community, beneficiaries and families alike, at what are still challenging times. The 2021/22 period was the charity’s 18th Anniversary Year.

A scenario planning document for COVID-19 (created in 2020) and frequently updated is based on four different scenarios, namely – 1) Rapid Recovery, 2) Extended Lockdown, 3) Repeated Waves and, 4) Global Downturns, based against four key identified categories, namely – A) Beneficiaries, B) People, C) Finances and D) Relationships. Scenario planning remains a fixed agenda item as part of MHF’s monthly virtual Trustee Board discussions – this will stay in place until the end of Feb 2023 when it will be reviewed.

Pictured above: CEO, Michael McGrath, DL

Now some 27 months on since COVID-19 arrived, the charity’s operating position remains largely in the virtual space, although we are now planning a number of outdoor face-to-face activities and programmes. Because of COVID-19, we took the hard decision in March 2020 to immediately cease all of our planned Muscle Dream operations. Whilst that was one of the toughest decisions ever, we are now looking forwards at the journey ahead.

As a clinically vulnerable adult, I’m still being cautious. I’m following the science. Most of our community are also still being cautious and applying common sense principles in their day to day lives. Whilst my wife and I have effectively been shielding for over two years and even though we’re triple jabbed, with an imminent booster due in Sept/Oct 2022, we remain vigilant and considered in our approach, hopeful for a better future.

There are still steps everyone can take to reduce the risk of catching and spreading COVID-19 – these include getting vaccinated, ensuring there is a good ventilation if meeting indoors (or meet outside), wearing a face covering in crowded or enclosed spaces and getting tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms, and of course staying at home should you test positive.

According to the Office for National Statistics, there are early signs of an increase in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in England and Northern Ireland. We see that UK COVID-19 data provided here (Source: GOV.UK website) indicates that UK COVID-19 latest data provided on 17 June 2022 shows an increase in the number of people testing positive in England, in addition to an increase in hospital admissions in England. According to ZOE COVID Study incidence figures (based on data from 18 June 2022), in total it was reported that there were currently 188,369 new daily symptomatic cases of COVID across the UK on average. From these sources, the current trend (as of 20 June 2022) continues to support the charity’s ongoing operational strategy to remain cautious.

Much has been written about how those with disabilities continue to face higher clinical risks, more significant threats to the security of their jobs and generally many more barriers than most. Many disabled people feel that their voices are still not being heard. That said, the charity continues to listen to its community and act accordingly. The virus continues to be a serious threat to disabled peoples lives.

As ever, we remain determined to push on with our work. As a small charity with one full-time head and one freelance consultant helping with trust fund applications together with some truly amazing volunteers, we remain 100% focused on the needs of our vulnerable community. We have one goal to support our beneficiaries and families as much as we’re able to at what still remains a testing time.

We are making it our mission to support our community’s mental wellbeing by exploring and developing new programmatic interventions. We reassessed how our Muscle Dream experiences were being fulfilled, and as a direct result, virtual Muscle Dream Programmes are now a firm operational reality.

Since COVID-19 began, I continue to check-in and speak with many of our families across the UK to see how they’re doing, let them know we’re thinking of them and explore how we can support them moving forwards. Many I know remain careful. Behaviours have changed and families remain cautious in the daily choices and engagement decisions they make.

We will continue to take a common sense approach in seeking to protect those most vulnerable and by default, protect ourselves – we must do this. So yes, I’m an advocate for continuing to observe wherever possible the social distancing protocols but also the wearing of masks, especially in indoor spaces and on public transport. These are the choices that many people are still making. We must I believe continue to be mindful in how we individually assess the daily risks of living purposeful lives, whilst also continuing to look out for those who are more vulnerable than most.

Where we can, we will continue to deliver virtual Muscle Dream programme interventions and we will continue to review what we can do operationally in how we bring our experiential magic and joy directly into people’s homes. For sure, it’s a very different way of doing things but I know that such moments in time matter enormously to some incredibly courageous and deserving young people, many for whom time is ticking. In so doing, we will continue to strive towards our mission of realising 657 Muscle Dream experiences, one for every muscle in the human body.

In addition to the physical challenges of our beneficiaries, conditions such as muscular dystrophy (MD) can have a profound psychosocial impact on the lives of affected families. As part of a Muscle Dream, the charity delivers experiences that not only bring moments of real joy to a young person, but also directly supports the psychosocial needs of its community. We deliver our Muscle Dreams in a safe and supportive way to our vulnerable young people and work to build trust with their families and caregivers. We encourage our beneficiaries to reflect and learn from their experiences with the aim of inspiring confidence and building self-esteem and resilience to support their emotional well-being into the future. Inclusion in our Muscle Warrior tribe fosters a real sense of belonging for members of our community and makes a key contribution to improving the quality of their lives.

The psychosocial impact of muscular dystrophy has as many know been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many of our community isolated and often struggling with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Our virtual interventions, such as our In Conversation With broadcasts, continue to bring families together by providing inspiration beyond our Muscle Dream experiences. As the pandemic continues to affect our vulnerable community into a third year, our aim is to ensure that the Muscle Warrior spirit can continue to be felt, in enabling beneficiaries to thrive despite the ongoing challenges, now including the escalating costs of living, by default bringing additional and very real pressures, stresses and uncertainty.

We recognise the importance of digital. Whilst resources remain scarce, we continue to do our best in leveraging our social channels in communicating with stakeholders, in keeping people informed and connected, whilst making sure that we are listening to and acting upon the needs of our community.

We continue to innovate! A number of new virtual Muscle Dream programme ideas are currently being scoped out and I’m having conversations with a few hospices to learn more about young people’s development aspirations, the gaps in transition and skills development. We believe that for example upskilling interventions and helping to improve key life-skills should be a key part of the transition framework. 

Underpinned by the social model of care, we know that our virtual ‘therapeutic’ interventions deliver great outcomes for those most in need. We are also looking to continue to play our part in supporting good mental wellbeing for our community. Subject to securing the appropriate levels of funding, we hope to start implementing some of these new programmes in July/Aug 2022.

Our In Conversation With online broadcasts were purposefully designed with our community in mind – since May 2020, the charity has delivered 41 episodes – a variety of guests have graciously shared their stories, experiences and insights, from isolation tips by a former nuclear submarine commander, laughter yoga by a certified happiness facilitator to alleviating stress and anxiety in addition to conversations about resilience as a family, psychology tips for our powerchair football community, a chat with our Patron Lorraine Kelly that included insights about TV interviews with famous movie stars to all things Antarctica and penguins. Conversations with Ross Brawn OBE MD of Motorsport F1, Adam McEvoy from The Wheelchair Football Association, Dr Jon Rey-Hastie CEO of Pathfinders Neuromuscular Alliance and Chris Wood MBE, Founder of Flying Disabled have all been well received.

Series I (May 2020 to Dec 2020) saw 15 ICW shows take place, with Series II (Jan 2021 to Feb 2022) seeing 23 ICW shows unfold. Check out our ‘Thank You Video‘ capturing all guests from Series I and Series II. The mission has always been to help our families across the UK feel less isolated and more connected with the outside world, but these broadcasts also offer an opportunity to raise awareness of the charity’s work with new audiences and attract new supporters and donations. Series III (March 2022 to Feb 2023) sees 12 shows across the year being delivered – it’s been my privilege to chat with a variety of fascinating guests from Mike Miller-Smith MBE, award winning aviator and CEO of Aerobility (who the charity works with), Ed Warner, founder and CEO of Motionspot and Fine & Able, to Karun Chandhok, Racing Driver, TV Presenter and F1 Commentator. By the end of June 2022, estimated viewing metrics indicate that ‘reach’ was close to 287,000 people across the UK.

In continuing to find ways of bringing our community together during these still challenging times, we will with your much-needed support push on in bringing hope into the lives of those for whom the charity exists to serve. If you would like to help our ongoing efforts, please make a donation today so we can deliver many more Muscle Dream interventions (be they virtual or face-to-face) for children and young people with muscular dystrophy. Thank you!

Michael McGrath
CEO, The Muscle Help Foundation

COVID-19 statement updated 20.06.22

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