Meningitis Now staff member Andy Hopkinson

A year like no other - Meningitis Now's annual report

Andy Hopkinson | 5th November 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic meant the financial year 2020-21 was a year like no other, as our chief executive Tom Nutt and chairman of our Trustees Andy Fletcher outline in the introduction to our annual report, reproduced here

A year like no other - Meningitis Now annual report

“This was clearly a year like no other. The world succumbed to the Covid-19 pandemic, and we – like many charities and organisations – were hit with a dramatic shock. 

“The impact of Covid-19 on Meningitis Now was severe. As the pandemic struck, we forecast that our income would be less than half of what we had been expecting for the year. Government restrictions meant that our Head Office closed, all staff began working from home, and for seven months of the year, a majority of staff were on furlough. The imposition of lockdown and social distancing meant that home visits by our Community Support Officers had to stop and our programme of face-to-face fundraising and support events had to be cancelled or postponed. This included activities that are beloved and important to the Meningitis Now family – events such as our Family Days and Forever Days, the Five Valleys Walk, Believe & Achieve weekends and workshops, and our carol concerts in St Lawrence Jewry Church in the City of London and in Gloucester Cathedral. 

React quickly and with resolve

“From a governance perspective, we had to react quickly and with resolve. The Board of Trustees adopted a ‘Coronavirus Strategy’ with three aims: to survive; to protect what is valuable about our charity; and to deliver our charitable objectives, as far as possible. The Board then met regularly throughout the year and supported the CEO and staff team to take any necessary actions. Whilst this was not always an easy task during a pandemic, we hope you can see from this Annual Report that we were successful in realising these short-term aims and in adapting to the new world around us. We never lost sight of our vision – a future where no-one loses their life to meningitis and where all those affected get the support they need. 

“For, whilst 2020-21 was a frightening and difficult time, it was also a time when the Meningitis Now family found strength and determination to pull together. 

“We moved quickly to understand how Covid-19 was affecting the people we support. Through our ‘Keep Meningitis in Mind’ survey, we discovered that the pandemic was negatively affecting some people’s mental health and emotional wellbeing, and impacting children and young people’s education, learning and development. As a result, we launched the ‘Covid-19 Young Futures Fund’ to ensure that young people and their families had access to emergency financial support to help them during the pandemic. 

Specific Covid-19 information and resources 

“We developed specific Covid-19 information and resources, available on our website, social media channels and via our Helpline, to help answer people’s questions). And we shifted many of our support services online, meaning that we could continue to provide tailored and timely support to people living under lockdown. 

“Our awareness activities also shifted to take account of the new Covid-19 environment. During the spring and summer, we supported the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s call for parents and carers not to avoid A&E if they were concerned about their child’s health. And in the autumn, we ran our student and young people’s awareness campaign, encouraging young adults not to assume that flu-like symptoms were Covid-19. Our ‘Don’t assume it’s Covid’ campaign caught the public imagination and was broadcast to 40 million listeners on radio and gave every UK adult the opportunity to read about it in the press and online 1.8 times. 

Research programme hit

“Sadly, our research programme was hit by the financial difficulties created by the pandemic. We had to withdraw full funding from two projects. We were also sorry to see the premature end of the government-funded ‘Be On the TEAM’ project, which had been expected to show whether MenB vaccines would reduce the transmission of meningococcal bacteria. This project had to end once schools were closed, but thankfully the swabs and samples stored at the Spencer Dayman Meningitis Laboratories at the University of Bristol have created an opportunity for that research to continue. The team at Bristol was also able to use the swabs for some unique Covid-19 research during the summer of 2020. 

“During the year, the support of the Meningitis Now family proved invaluable in getting the charity through difficult times. 

“In April, over £100k was raised through the 2.6 Challenge, including an incredible £75k by our Junior Ambassador, Harmonie-Rose. Harmonie’s appearance on Good Morning Britain sparked an outpouring of generosity from across the UK. Such generosity was also manifest throughout the year, with many people helping us in response to our emergency fundraising appeal, the ‘Biggest Challenge’. 

Significant emergency funding

“We also benefitted from significant emergency funding from the Garfield Weston Foundation, The St. James’s Place Charitable Foundation, Stroud District Council and the UK Government via the Coronavirus Community Support Fund, which was distributed by The National Lottery Community Fund. The Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme proved a vital lifeline for individuals and for the charity overall. 

“Yet such generosity did not remove the need for significant reductions in expenditure during the year, as our future sustainability was called into question. Savings of over £1m against planned expenditure were found during the year, which included spending reductions on plans and projects for support events, awareness campaigns, new research, and investment in our website and back- office systems. Most significant was an organisational restructure, which saw a reduction in the number of staff from 59 to 36 – a drop of some 40%. It was painful for us to have to say goodbye to so many tireless and professional staff. 

“These difficult reductions in expenditure, combined with the generosity of many of our supporters, meant that we achieved our main aim of the pandemic year – survival. We managed to protect what was valuable about our charity and to get on with our charitable aims of saving lives and rebuilding futures through providing support, raising awareness and funding research. It was unfortunate that during the year our volunteers and Ambassadors could not be as active as usual, but they remained hugely valued as part of the Meningitis Now family. And financially, we remain sustainable and managed to generate a small surplus of £245k. This means we started 2021- 22 in a stable position, albeit with different challenges and opportunities ahead. 

Positive news too

“There is positive news too, in that lockdown and social distancing during 2020-21 resulted in a marked reduction in the case incidence of bacterial meningitis. Evidence suggests that cases of meningococcal disease (meningitis and septicaemia) may have been reduced by up to 80% in the UK during the epidemiological year. We estimate that other major causes of meningitis, including viral meningitis, are likely to be significantly reduced due to social distancing measures. What happens to case incidence in the future remains unknown, but we will be monitoring this closely and responding accordingly. 

“Thankfully, with a new strategy published in April 2021, we are optimistic about the future. We continue to fight for a future where no one loses their life from meningitis and where all those affected get the support they need.”

Read and download our full Annual Report 2020/21.

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