Derek Fry: This year can't be any tougher, can it?

Derek Fry chair of trustees at The Open Door Centre talks about how challenging the past year has been for the charity, and ponders the question - will 2023 be any better?

2022 was just about the toughest year in our 37-year history here at The Open Door Centre in Swindon.

We’re a day resource for adults with learning disabilities with over 100 members. We provide activities, freshly cooked meals, and we support our members in attending things such as doctor’s appointments and benefits assessments.

Our wonderful charity has a proven track record in helping vulnerable people to achieve their highest potential and has been recognised with the likes of the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. However, each year over the last decade has become more difficult and more stressful for those running the charity.

In 2012 our local authority funding was halved and in 2017 it was completely stopped. We had to become experts in fundraising, which was a steep learning curve. For a group of people that had been focused on delivering the frontline support, it wasn’t easy, but we navigated the waters and soon got to grips with it. Unfortunately, fundraising has also become tougher and tougher each passing year.

In the last year alone, we applied for over 100 grants; a very small percentage were successful. We’re also feeling the national decrease in charity donations as individuals struggle with the cost-of-living crisis.

We know we’re far from alone in the challenges we’re facing, but I believe a further complication for our charity is a lack of awareness by many of the issues faced by those with learning disabilities. There are 1.5 million people with learning disabilities in the UK, yet according to research from MENCAP, two in five (42%) of the public has not seen someone with a learning disability in the media in the past year.

Perhaps most concerning is that two-thirds of people do not realise that a learning disability means that those affected can have reduced capacity to perform tasks others might take for granted. Part of our work is to of course raise the awareness of the plights being faced by those we support.

In 2022, we launched a campaign reaching out to businesses in the region and our MPs to raise awareness and letting them know that without funding, we faced the very real possibility of closure in 2023. This led to a visit from BBC news and a bit of publicity that has helped raise our profile.

The resulting support from our MPs Justin Tomlinson and Sir Robert Buckland, and several businesses including Tesco, Asda, Co-op, Zurich, and Nationwide has been overwhelmingly positive. Thankfully, we are now financially secure for 2023 and we continue to work hard to secure a sustainable future for the centre.

Looking forward, I don’t realistically think things are going to improve nationally any time soon, but the last few months have made me more optimistic that we might be able to weather the ongoing funding crisis. We need to continue to keep our profile high in our locality, we need to celebrate our successes and publicise ourselves at every opportunity. Most of all we need to keep going for the sake of our members who often have no one to turn to when times are hard. 2023, can’t possibly be any tougher than 2022, can it?

    Share Story:

Recent Stories

How is the food and agricultural crisis affecting charity investment portfolios?
Charity Times editor, Lauren Weymouth, is joined by Jeneiv Shah, portfolio manager at Sarasin & Partners to discuss how the current pressures placed on agriculture and the wider food system is affecting charity investment portfolios.