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 1st Oct 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 2021/22 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

“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 still being very cautious and keeping a close ear on the science! Most of our community are still being very careful in their day to day lives. As of the Sept 2021, my wife and I have effectively been shielding for over 520 days and yes, you’ve heard me say it before, but yes, I’m still counting! I hear that most of our families have had their 2nd jabs, and I know from regular conversations that many are anxious as to how the next 2-3 months will play out, as the legal restrictions have been removed.

Just two months ago (August 2021), coronavirus cases were falling and the lifting of nearly all restrictions looked like it had certainly been a significant success. However, its clear that infection levels are on the rise again – on the 28th September 2021, there were 34,526 new cases of people with a confirmed positive test result for coronavirus. Between the period 22 September 2021 and 28 September 2021, there were 920 deaths (within 28 days of a positive test). There is growing evidence that immunity through vaccination is waning.

I remain more determined than ever to push on with our work. As a small charity with just one full-time head, some freelance consultants helping on some specific projects, together with some truly amazing volunteers, we remain 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 at what remains a 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 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 and COVID-19-cautious – in other words, their behaviours haven’t changed a great deal since COVID-19 emerged.

We will continue to take a common sense approach in not only seeking to protect those in society who are vulnerable but 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. Whilst the growing evidence that we hear about daily on our news channels points to the vaccination programme being effective, we must be mindful in how we individually assess the daily risks of living purposeful lives.

As ever, the charity is staying focused on delivering virtual Muscle Dream programme interventions and we will continue to review what we can do operationally in how we bring our experiential magic and a little 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 because it was felt that the risks of bringing together several vulnerable families outweighed the benefits as a result of COVID-19. Understandably, some of our families were disappointed but we’re planning other programmes moving forwards.

Check out our virtual Laughter Muscle Dream Programme that saw 17 beneficiaries and their families come together two days before Christmas 2020. 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”.

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. We are also looking 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 the period Nov through to Feb 2022.

In addition to our virtual events programmes, our In Conversation With online broadcasts are going from strength to strength. These were purposefully designed with our community in mind – since May 2020, the charity has delivered 32 episodes which have included different guests and personalities from all walks of life! They have 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 and Adam McEvoy from The Wheelchair Football Association.

In January 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 intention is to continue to help our families across the UK feel less isolated and more connected with the outside world. By the end of February 2022, we estimate that with current viewing metrics, the charity won’t be far off reaching in excess of 255,000 people across the country through these conversational interactions that uplift, entertain, inform and hopefully inspire.

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 challenging times, we will 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 help our ongoing COVID-19 efforts, please make a donation today so we can continue our important work – every penny counts. Thank you!”

Michael McGrath
CEO, The Muscle Help Foundation

COVID-19 statement updated 01.10.21

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