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To mark the UK’s Day of Reflection (23 March 2021), Simon Antrobus, CEO of BBC Children in Need, shares his thoughts and reflections

As I reflect on the last year, I think not only of the remarkable commitment I have witnessed from our projects to help make a difference to children facing disadvantage, whose lives have sadly been made harder as a result of the pandemic, but of the generosity of our supporters the length and breadth of the UK. It is thanks to their remarkable kindness that we have been able to focus our support on the amazing work of our projects who adapted their work to continue to deliver vital services and support to young lives throughout the crisis.

I often receive emails and letters of thanks from organisations we fund through the donations we receive. It’s heartening to hear direct from the charities we support about the difference funds donated out of kindness can make to young lives. One such email came from the Chair of a small charity in Northamptonshire working with children at risk of emotional distress and compromised mental health. It has a waiting list and its services are in demand and rising as a result of the pandemic. On the face of it the email was a straightforward thank you, the Chair underlined the difference this charity could make to young lives during the pandemic and the real sense of investment in them as a small but vital local charity, but of course, it said much more than that. It highlighted that whilst the past year has brought a sense of isolation, grief and loss, it has also been a time of incredible kindness, generosity, and community spirit.

Some of the small charities we support have had their own challenges to face. Some have been brought almost to the brink of closure because of financial uncertainties and inevitable restrictions on their usual fundraising opportunities and plans. Despite this, they have continued to focus on the children and young people they support, finding imaginative and creative ways to continue to deliver services to children at risk of disadvantage. I’m delighted that BBC Children in Need – alongside Comic Relief, our brilliant partner on The Big Night In Appeal last April – have been able to play our part.

Over the past year, we have delivered two Appeals to help make a difference to those whose lives have been made even harder as a result of the pandemic. Following the outpouring of generosity for The Big Night In Appeal, we were able to launch a number of dedicated COVID-19 response programmes to support organisations across the UK who are providing essential help to children and young people during the current crisis. To date, we have awarded £25.3 million in funding to specifically help projects provide essential support to children and young people facing disadvantage during the pandemic.

Our COVID-19 2020 Booster Grants Programme has awarded small grants of up to £5,000 to 948 local charities and projects working with children and young people throughout the UK who have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, to a total of £2.9m. These grants are designed to help organisations innovate, change, adapt and expand their approach so they can better support the children and young people they currently work with through the current crisis.

One of these projects is Alder Hey Children’s Charity in Liverpool, who were awarded a Booster grant of £2,640 to support children and young people who have life limiting or life threatening medical conditions by providing music concerts in hospital rooms via televisions, providing entertainment and enjoyment while they were isolated due to COVID-19. Elsewhere, Sticky Fingers in Northern Ireland were awarded a grant of £3,240 to purchase three inflatable plastic bubbles, providing a safe way to bring their ‘Imaginarium’ programme – creative play activities for children from disadvantaged backgrounds – to children and young people socially distancing due to COVID-19, improving emotional wellbeing and fun.

In addition, we have allocated a further £15.6m in funding to 352 projects through our COVID-19 Next Steps Grants Programme, which is designed to help organisations support for children and young people who are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with grants of between £5,000 and £80,000. These grants fund sustained responses to the COVID-19 situation with the aim of alleviating the longer-term impact of the crisis on young people.

One of these projects is Balloons in Devon, who were awarded a Next Steps grant of £31,999 to support children who have suffered a bereavement to help them come to terms with their loss. Coping with the loss of a loved one is hard, leaving children and young people feeling sad, worried and distressed, projects like Balloons offer vital support to help them cope and rebuild their lives.

There are so many more incredible projects I could talk about, who are all doing amazing in local communities across the UK thanks to the kindness and generosity of the Great British public, including:

  • Making Miracles in Kent, who were awarded £16,000 to deliver bereavement play therapy and counselling to children and young people affected by a bereavement related to COVID-19.
  • Snowdonia Donkeys in Bangor, who were awarded £44,700 to provide donkey therapy sessions for children and young people with emotional and anxiety challenges that have been amplified by COVID-19.
  • Mind Mosaic Child and Family Therapies in Inverclyde, who were awarded £36,936 to provide face-to-face therapy for children and young people affected by psychological difficulties and complex life experiences who have contacted the project’s COVID-19 helpline, with the aim of supporting their emotional wellbeing.
  • Beyond the Horizon in Birmingham, who were awarded £14,479 to provide therapeutic support to children and young people who have been affected by COVID-19.
  • Crossroads Care Isle Of Man, who were awarded £20,479 to deliver health and wellbeing sessions for young carers experiencing poor emotional and mental health due to COVID-19.

In recent months, we also allocated an additional £1.4 million to our crisis fund – Emergency Essentials – to help families who need immediate support. The Emergency Essentials programme provides small grants to families facing a crisis at home. The programme can provide items that meet children’s most basic needs, such as a bed to sleep in, a cooker to give them a hot meal, clothing and other items and services that are critical to children’s wellbeing.

As part of this funding stream, BBC Children in Need awarded Newlife – The Charity for Disabled Children a grant of £100,000 to provide equipment to children with specialist or additional needs that will significantly improve their health, welfare and quality of life. These items could include specialist beds, wheelchairs, car seats, seating systems, walking and standing frames, communication aids and sleep systems.

In addition, since the beginning of the pandemic, BBC Children in Need has dedicated over £3m of funding specifically to address digital exclusion, supplying devices such as laptops or tablets to families who would not otherwise be able to afford or access these items, and supporting them to get online through broadband or data allowances. This has included a grant of £500,000 to the Good Things Foundation to specifically support children and young people facing digital exclusion through devices and connectivity.

Elsewhere, BBC Children in Need has worked in partnership with the Youth Futures Foundation to develop, Inspiring Futures, a £6.4 million programme which will tackle youth unemployment. Inspiring Futures aims to support children and young people facing the greatest challenges, to support them as they move through adolescence to adulthood with the aim of guiding them towards successful employment.

To close, I want to thank each and every one of the excellent staff at BBC Children in Need, who have worked tirelessly to deliver something very special in the last twelve months. However, we can only do this because of the amazing kindness and generosity of the British public. I believe we are a naturally kind and generous nation. We come together when others need us. The vast majority of donations to BBC Children in Need are small but every single pound donated is powerful because each donation given in the spirit of kindness and togetherness enables BBC Children in Need to do something remarkable in communities across the UK. To all of our supporters, each and every one of you – thank you. Across the UK, in thousands of charities, your kindness has provided a lifeline and helped children and young people navigate through the challenges of COVID-19, because when we come together great things can happen.

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