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A message from Dr Tom Nutt, CEO: 2023 - A year in review

30th December 2023

What a busy and productive year it has been for Meningitis Now! I am genuinely amazed by what has happened in 2023.

Tom blog pic

As I sat down to compose this customary review of the year, I found myself in awe of what our supporters, volunteers and Ambassadors, Trustees and staff have achieved this year.

What is perhaps most impressive is that significant events have happened almost every month of 2023. This means there is too much to write about here! What follows is therefore just a personal selection of highlights:

January – our response to the sad death of musician Jeff Beck meant that our lifesaving messages about meningitis signs and symptoms and the importance of vaccines was heard across the globe. Some 800 media articles were published featuring a quote from Meningitis Now, reaching a world-wide audience of more than one billion people.

February – our first Away Day for Ambassadors since before the Covid-19 pandemic was held in February. Despite poor weather, some 18 Ambassadors attended, including both familiar and new faces. It was a real joy to bring people together after so long, especially for the customary Friday night in the pub!

March – we held a ‘Forever Weekend’ in Northampton, bringing together 27 participants who had experienced bereavement. It was described as ‘such an emotional but wonderful weekend’ and, as one person said, “so helpful to be together with people who really understand. Don’t have to keep putting on “the mask”.

April – the London Marathon! In addition to a team of more than 70 runners, we had a fabulous team of staff and volunteers who helped make the day exciting and energising for all. I even ran the race myself, with a pleasing time 3 hours 58 minutes! And thanks some incredibly generous supporters, I managed to raise over £9.5k for Meningitis Now. This included a brilliant night of ‘Singo Bingo’ and fundraising at Stroud Brewery – thank you to the many people who turned out for that unforgettable night.

May – we re-launched our programme of Business Ambassadors; people with experience of meningitis and who can use their business or professional profile to raise awareness of meningitis and Meningitis Now. Our Business Ambassadors include people such as Ian Stuart, CEO of HSBC Bank UK plc; Nigel Tait, Partner at Carter Ruck LLP; Allan Halsall, formerly Chair of Silver Cross prams; Alison Eddy, Partner at Irwin Mitchell LLP, and cyber security expert, Raj Tumber MBE.

Meningitis Now Business Ambassadors

June - we launched our powerful new report, ‘Understanding the experiences and support needs of adults with meningitis’ in Parliament at an event hosted by our Patron, Professor the Lord Darzi of Denham. The evening was well attended by volunteers, Ambassadors, as well as many health and care professionals from the NHS, UKHSA and Royal Colleges of GPs and Nursing.

July – this month saw work progress with into an NHS England project looking at how the ‘worry and concern’ of patients and their carers can be better taken into account by doctors and nurses when diagnosing and treating serious illness. This leads on from work undertaken in 2018 when families and supporters shared their experience of meningitis with the then Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP.

I also attended the CoMO conference in London in July where I gave a paper on Meningitis Now’s support services, covering bereavement, the Rebuilding Futures Fund, Community Support , Believe & Achieve, and Meningitis Now’s unique peer support, We really are world-leaders in what we do – a true centre of expertise for aftercare and support.

August – saw preparatory work undertaken ahead of the launch of two reports evaluating the impact achieved by Meningitis Now’s Believe & Achieve programme and our Community Support team. Both were found to be hugely beneficial as people seek to rebuild their lives after meningitis. The best quote about B&A isn’t actually in the report but came directly from the lead researcher: “[Believe & Achieve] is perhaps the most impactful programme I’ve ever come across, particularly in terms of its long-term impact”.

September a bumper month including an event at Ben Pauling Racing celebrating the work of Meningitis Now, where supporter Diana Man talked about her hope of representing Britain at the Paris Paralympics in 2024.

The last weekend of September is always the Five Valleys Walk. Over 1,300 walkers raised nearly £40,000 by walking the fabulous 21-mile route around the Stroud valleys. The month also saw the Meningitis Now-funded PhD student at University of Bristol commence work, studying the aerosol transmission of meningococcal bacteria.

October – a busy month that saw our student campaign hit its peak, with many volunteers and Ambassadors raising awareness on university and college campuses across the UK. At the same time, we launched our new website and a Tik Tok channel to help us communicate meningitis awareness to adolescents and young adults. On World Meningitis Day, we gathered to remember loved ones lost to meningitis and reached a huge audience on social media with our 'Lighting up the road ahead’ film.

It was a busy month for our supporters too – there was a successful Family Day in Newcastle and a Peak District Challenge as well. We also welcomed five new Community Ambassadors to the charity - Katy, Lucy, Charles, Ian and Heather; a wonderfully diverse and enthusiastic new team!

November – our Gloucester Cathedral Carol Concert. It was a joy to see a full cathedral and to hear the beautiful music of Highnam Primary Academy, Rock Choir and the Chalford Band. The concert is the culmination of our Ribbon Appeal, and this year Jess Vickery spoke with incredible composure about the loss of her husband, Josh, and the impact it had on her family and community. The concert is always a moving and uplifting occasion, with our Remembrance Tree at the heart of proceedings. Was it the ‘best ever concert’ as someone commented? Perhaps. You can watch our short film of the concert on our instagram account.

Meningitis Now Gloucester Cathedral concert 2023

December – a dinner at the House of Lords, involving Believe & Achieve youngsters, volunteers and supporters was a great success. As was our London Carol Concert on 11th December – we had a full church in St Paul’s in Covent Garden that included volunteers, Ambassadors, our Royal Patron, HRH The Duchess of Edinburgh, and our new President, TV and radio presenter and fashion model, Lisa Snowdon. Supporter Abi Hull talked movingly about the loss of her son Oli, as we reflected upon the important work of our charity. The concert was even a chance for supporter Ross Probert’s first symphony, dedicated to Meningitis Now, to be played in public.

January 2024 – OK, so I realise that January 2024 hasn’t quite happened yet. But our Trustee, Rod Adlington, will be rowing the Atlantic in January! With his crew, known as The Brightsides, Rod will row for 40 days and 40 nights, non-stop, to raise funds for Meningitis Now and the Get-Ahead Trust. Amazing! Good luck Rod!

And Rod is far from being alone in doing an incredible thing for our charity. In fact, as I look back across 2023 there are so many examples of the Meningitis Now family going to remarkable lengths to support our work, ranging from Paul Ward, who cycled around the Isle of Wight in memory of his daughter Sophie, to Daksha and Dilip Mistry who organised a wonderful Ball in Oldham in December. In fact, support for Meningitis Now runs in the Mistry family, as their son Bhaven cycled from Madrid to London to raise funds in late summer.

In Scotland, Alan Glyn and the amazing Team Alexis Rose continued their fundraising endeavours, whilst the memory of Mia B is honoured with the creation of a unique floral bouquet available from Fay’s Florists. Other organisations such as the fabulous Caroline Gardner, DP World (and so many other fantastic companies and organisations) did their bit in 2023 too.

But, as I conclude my thoughts on the year, I recognise also that the year has not been unequivocally positive. The incidence of meningitis continues to rise in unvaccinated groups following the reduction in case numbers experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic. Our work is far from complete.

I’m also sure that this has not been an easy year for many of us, as we have had to navigate the cost-of-living crisis and other day-to-day difficulties. And the world around us has become darker – just look at the conflict in Gaza and war in Ukraine. I’m sure the thoughts of the whole Meningitis Now family are with people whose suffering may be greater than our own.

With this in mind, I hope you have had peaceful and restful Christmas break. And as we look forward to 2024, I’m optimistic that Meningitis Now will move forward with the hope, compassion and determination that we saw in 2023.

Thank you and see you in 2024.