Since March 2020, 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 a message from the charity’s CEO Michael McGrath (updated on 26th February 2021) giving further insights into how the charity expeditiously pivoted, it’s current activities but also what it’s future plans are for the next 12 months.

In what is the charity’s 18th anniversary year, the key objective in 2021/22 is to ensure that the needs of it’s community, it’s beneficiaries and families, all of whom are by default clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV’s), are being met at this extremely challenging time.

A scenario planning document for COVID-19 was created in 2020 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 is a fixed agenda item as part of the charity’s monthly virtual Trustee Board discussions.

Pictured above: CEO, Michael McGrath

“The charity shifted to a virtual position. Because of COVID-19, we took the very difficult decision back in March 2020 to immediately cease all of our planned 2020 Muscle Dream operations. Believe me, that was a really really hard day! It was also the start of a whole new journey.

I’m a hardened shielder. As of the 26th February 2021, my wife and I have been shielding for 344 days and yes, I’m counting! I personally know of many families who have passed the 300 day mark! It’s not easy. The latest set of country-wide local COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and alert levels, in addition to for example communications from local organisations such as Hertfordshire’s Local Resilience Forum (LRF) , a partnership of some 60 organisations (from emergency services, local councils and health services to volunteers) which is now calling on the residents of the county “to act now and ‘Play your Part’ to slow the rapid spread of coronavirus”, the challenging landscape that is COVID-19 sadly remains firmly in place. For those who are vulnerable, the prevalence of such news is extraordinarily wearing, it’s hard and it doesn’t look this virus is going away anytime soon.

That said, I am more determined than ever to continue our vital work. As a small charity with one full-time head, some freelance consultants helping on specific projects and activities, together with some truly amazing volunteers, we are focused on the needs of our community. We have one simple goal to support our beneficiaries and families as much as we’re able to.

Since COVID-19 began, I have personally spoken to many of our families across the UK to check-in and first and foremost see how they are, let them know we’re thinking of them but also explore how the charity can support them moving forwards. Many I know feel incredibly vulnerable, more isolated, more alone, increasingly anxious, distressed and in some cases terrified. In addition to the Government advice on shielding here, there have been useful COVID-19 updates from some of our charity friends including Muscular Dystrophy UK, Action Duchenne and Duchenne UK.

We must continue to take decisive action in first and foremost protecting ourselves by adhering to the latest Lockdown 3.0 and by default protect others – despite their being several charities in for example the muscular dystrophy space here in the UK, as well as a plethora of rare disease organisations, it’s my fervent belief that we must come together and support each other. That’s why we are now having more conversations of a collaborative nature over the coming 3-6 months – at times like these, building trusting partnerships that are mutually beneficial and that have those communities we support forefront of mind, that must surely be a good thing.

We remain focused on reducing our Muscle Dream wait-list, albeit now in a virtual way – we’re constantly reviewing what we can do operationally in how the charity can bring its experiential magic and a little joy directly into people’s homes.

It’s a very different way of doing things but I know that such interventions matter to some incredibly courageous and deserving young people, many for whom time is ticking. In doing so, we will continue to push on and move a little closer to our mission of realising 657 Muscle Dream experiences, that’s one for every muscle in the human body.

We recognise the importance of digital. We are working hard in leveraging our social channels in communicating with stakeholders, in keeping them informed and connected, whilst making sure that we are listening to and acting upon the needs of our community.

In 2020, we established a virtual events programme designed for our Muscle Warrior community including standalone initiatives such as our Wellbeing Outreach Programme and our first virtual Laughter Muscle Dream Programme that saw 17 beneficiaries and their families come together two days before Christmas. One family commented:

“The laughter programme made us feel connected to some sort of normality seeing all the other families and most importantly, it made us happy” and another said afterwards, “It made us feel very happy indeed; our loads felt lighter and we all forgot about the world’s troubles during this pressing time”.

Over the coming months, we will continue to innovate! A number of new programme ideas are already being developed including how we can support good mental wellbeing and restore some hope for the future – subject to securing the appropriate levels of funding, we are looking to implement these in what will be the charity’s new financial year, commencing 1st March 2021.

In addition to our virtual events programmes, our In Conversation With online broadcast initiative is going from strength to strength. This was purposefully designed with our community in mind – since May 2020, nineteen different guests and personalities have been invited to share their stories and insights on a variety of topics – 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 and a chat with our Patron Lorraine Kelly that included insights about TV interviews with famous movie stars to all things Antarctica and penguins!

In January 2021, we began our second ‘In Conversation With’ series and we have already lined up a host of fascinating guests – the intention is to continue to help families feel less isolated and more connected with the outside world. By the end of February 2021, the charity won’t be far off reaching in excess of 100,000 people across the country through interactions that uplift, entertain, inform and inspire.

We reached out to our fantastic Muscle Warrior Volunteers around the country and asked them to create short video messages that burst with positivity, messages that not only inspire but amplify our STRONGER TOGETHER ethos, more important now than ever before.

In continuing to work to bring our community together during these times of adversity, we are keen to continue to play our part in providing a little joy, some laughter and above all bring some hope into the lives of those for whom the charity exists to serve.

If you wish to support our COVID-19 response efforts in some way, please consider making a donation today so we can continue our work – right now, every single penny counts. Thank you!”

Michael McGrath
CEO, The Muscle Help Foundation

COVID-19 statement updated 26.02.21

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