England & Wales Public health, Welfare and equalities

Covid-19: On the ground with a small charity


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Earlier this week we published a briefing on the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on smaller charities. Julia Clark, Director of Engagement at the Encephalitis Society got in touch to give us first hand account of the situation for one small charity.

Since the middle of March, our support service has seen between a 113% and a 45% daily increase in contacts, which has now settled at a 67% uplift in demand for support, with around two thirds of contacts being related to Covid-19. Our small support team of three are working very hard from home to cope and make sure people get the help and support they need. But it’s difficult as people are frightened, isolated and feel deprived of vital, fact checked information. We’ve done two podcasts with doctors and other experts to make sure information is available and have moved face to face events to digital so people are still connected.


The surge in demand is coupled with plummeting income levels. Seventy-nine fundraising events were cancelled or postponed in April, meaning our community fundraising income is currently non-existent. For a smaller charity like ourselves, if this continues and we are not supported by the government, we are unlikely to be able to deliver in the long-term the life-saving care people with brain injuries desperately need. Corporates are struggling too, and philanthropy is taking a back seat when compared to paying employees and saving their businesses. We are accessing emergency trust and foundation grants where we can but these are limited in availability and we are not always eligible. Small charities with a UK or wider remit are generally not eligible for support from community foundations (despite delivering front line services) for example, and we often fall through this funding net. Obviously, our investment levels are plummeting too.

Government/central support

We await clarity around eligibility and application processes for the government package of support delivered via the National Lottery, and the monies raised  during the Big Night In which will be match funded by government and delivered through Children in Need and Comic Relief. From the information in the public domain, we believe that Comic Relief are distributing to existing grant holders only and we are probably not eligible for any of the pots of the £750m government package of support. We hope that processes and more details on how to apply are available soon and that smaller front-line charities supporting brain injured people like us are able to receive support from these central funds.


We think that viruses like Covid-19 will cause conditions like encephalitis to increase and will also cause neurological challenges more widely. We’ve already been asked to be part of the CoroNerve National Surveillance Programme on Neurological Complications of Covid-19. That’s how essential our services are, how we are contributing to the nation’s health and wellbeing and how valued by the NHS and academic institutions our expertise is in the fight against this pandemic.

We feel passionately that the government cannot afford to overlook or undervalue the not for profit sector at the moment. As we navigate the worst impacts of the outbreak, people across the country are relying on charities and the essential support we provide and will be further leaning on us as we come to terms with what the future impact on the health of the nation will be.

To sum up, many small charities are dealing with many more desperate people, on the budget of a KitKat, with little hope of a central government grant and with a decimated fundraising portfolio. But you can play a vital role in supporting us, if you get to know your local charities.

For example, why not join and promote BrainWalk, which is a virtual challenge event App (reissued as a Covid-19 challenge). It can keep brains and bodies healthy – and helps us – at no cost to you! The more people join BrainWalk, the easier it is for us to access funding for future Apps.

Small charities are doing marvellous work – we are contributing to the health of the nation both now and as we recover, but not all of us are going to survive.


2 thoughts on “Covid-19: On the ground with a small charity

  1. I chair a charitable trust providing childcare. We have furloughed all staff except two. Contrary to original commitments we cannot claim 80% pay, but in our case 59%. Also one of our Trustees who is an accountant with a number of charities has said we cannot pay our staff from reserves to retain them until we can reopen as we are no longer providing the service according to our charitable status.
    Any advice please.

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