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 24th Dec 2021) giving further insights into how the charity expeditiously pivoted it’s current activities but also what it’s focus and future plans are through until the end of Feb 2022 ie. the end of the charity’s fiscal year.

In what is the charity’s 18th Anniversary Year, the key objective in 2022/23 will be to ensure that the needs of it’s community, it’s beneficiaries and families, all of whom are vulnerable, are being met during these still challenging times.

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 remains a fixed agenda item as part of MHF’s monthly virtual Trustee Board discussions which will stay in place until at least the end of Feb 2022.

Pictured above: CEO, Michael McGrath

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

As a vulnerable adult, I’m still being very cautious and keeping a close ear on the science! From what I hear, most of our community are also still being very careful in their day to day lives. As of the Dec 2021, my wife and I have effectively been shielding for over 21 months and yes, you’ve heard me say it before, we’re still counting! I believe all of our families have had their 2nd jabs and their 3rd booster vaccines. I know from regular conversations with families that many are still anxious as to how the next 6 months or so will play out.

There are a number of European countries that as a result of the new Omicron variant have strengthened their Covid restrictions. The PM together with NHS leaders including our Secretary of State for Health  and Social Care Sajid Javid continue to urge people to get boosted against Omicron. The UK Chief Medical Officers have raised the UK Covid Alert Level from Level 3 to Level 4. At the time of updating this statement, all adults in England are being offered a booster jab by the end of the year and devolved administrations are accelerating their vaccination efforts. The media is continually warning us that there are hard months ahead.

The charity remains determined to push on with its work. As a small charity with one full-time head, two freelance consultants helping on specific projects, together with some truly amazing volunteers, we remain 100% focused on the needs of our community. We have one goal to support our beneficiaries and families as much as we’re able to at what still remains an extremely challenging time.

We continue to make it our mission to support our community’s mental wellbeing during this challenging period. We reassessed how our Muscle Dream experiences were being fulfilled, and as a direct result, the concept of Virtual Muscle Dream Programmes is now a firm operational reality.

Since COVID-19 began, and as mentioned earlier in this statement, I continue to speak with many of our families across the UK to check-in and 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 still remain vigilant – since the emergence of the new omicron variant, behaviours have once again changed as everyone hunkers down for Christmas.

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. 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 really 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, that’s one for every muscle in the human body.

We recognise the importance of digital. We continue to work 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.

Sadly, our standalone Wellbeing Outreach Programme did not proceed in Sept 2021 because it was felt that the risks of bringing together several vulnerable families outweighed the benefits – quite understandably, some of our families were disappointed but we’re planning other programmes in 2022.

We continued to innovate! A number of new virtual Muscle Dream programme ideas like Music 2.0, Art 2.0 and Laughter 3.0 are 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.

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 new programmes in early 2022.

Our In Conversation With online broadcasts go from strength to strength. These were purposefully designed with our community in mind – since May 2020, the charity has delivered 35 episodes which have included different guests and personalities from all walks of life! They 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, and most recently 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.

In Jan 2021, we began Series II, in other words our second ‘In Conversation With’ schedule and we continue to line up new guests for future episodes – 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 with new audiences. By the end of Feb 2022, we estimate that with current viewing metrics, we won’t be far off reaching in excess of 255,000 people across the UK through these conversational interactions that uplift, entertain, and hopefully inform.

We reached out to our fantastic Muscle Warrior Volunteers around the UK 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. We also spotlighted our core volunteers, as part of the NCVO’s National Volunteers Week initiative, in recognising their compassion, energy and commitment to the cause with a host of WOW Awards! – forget the X-Factor, this was all about celebrating the M-factor!

In continuing to work to bring our community together during these still difficult 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 wish to help our ongoing COVID-19 efforts, please make a donation today so we can continue our important work – every penny counts. Thank you!

Although sadly it looks as though it will once again not be the Christmas we would all want, I hope you and your family’s will nonetheless be able to all have a restful break ~ enjoy the festive season and as ever, I look forward to what I hope we will continue to achieve in edging closer to our overarching #powerof657 mission”.

Michael McGrath
CEO, The Muscle Help Foundation

COVID-19 statement updated 24.12.21

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