I am writing this at a time of great uncertainty. Whatever your politics, the change of government mixed with the ongoing concerns about national finances leads to serious worries about all charity funding and Resources for Autism is not immune from this. I have always been a strong believer in having a wide range of funders as, over the years, I have seen good organisations collapse due to an over dependence on one funder or one kind of funder.
We gain our funding from Trusts and Foundations which are independent organisations whose only role in life is to fund charities. Most of them give small to medium grants for specific purposes (toys for example), some are generous or big enough to fund a member of staff for a year or so but that is rare and almost all of them will only fund an organisation once and then want at least a year off before they will consider funding again.
Our next main source of funding are local government contracts. These are wonderful but have serious restrictions tied to them. For example, if Brent fund a holiday play scheme, reasonably enough, only children who live in Brent can use it. They are also always time limited, usually for a year and very inflexible in what money can be spent on. This means that even if we are able to find extra funding for an element of the service we cannot stretch the provision beyond the original set date, rather it means that any money we can 'save' gets taken back by the funding authority.
Next there are generous individual donors - people who just like what we do and give us anything from 50p to £5,000 or even more. There is no way I can express my gratitude to them. This kind of money that we can spend where and when we need to is absolutely essential. Like our services, it bridges the gaps.
The other unrestricted funding we access is linked to events - like our current sky dive. People chose to have fun, run, jump, act, paint, entertain or whatever and the money raised comes to us. I hope that the pleasure gained from doing whatever it is somehow goes to reward the effort and the difference this kind of fundraising makes.
So, why am I concentrating on such a boring subject as money when the sun is beginning to shine more regularly and we are all shedding our winter blues?
Aiming High For Disabled Children (AHDC) was an initiative brought in by the last government and supported by MP's from all sides of the House. It focused on Short Breaks for two particular groups of children. Those with life limiting conditions and those with autism and challenging behaviours. It offered an opportunity for charities like ours to provide a range of imaginative and fun short breaks (play schemes, one to one support, youth clubs and so on) in areas where these have been few and far between.
We have been very successful at providing these short breaks and AHDC money entirely funds our services in Birmingham and many of our current holiday play schemes The future of this funding is now in the balance. No one knows if it will continue after March 2011. We will continue to seek alternative funding but this is a huge amount of money to find. Should I have not gone for it in the first place because it meant we were too dependent on one source? The answer to this is a resounding NO! We have met families and children who have had nothing at all in the way of out of school support in the past. We have shown them that it is possible to have fun with others however profound your autism and however much social groups may be a challenge for you. We have given some families the first real leisure time break they have had from their caring responsibilities for years and we have developed and expanded staff team of highly trained and highly professional workers who will never lose the skills they have gained thanks to AHDC.
I will do everything I can to ensure our AHDC services continue in Southwark, Haringey, Brent, Birmingham, Richmond and everywhere else. I can make no promises, as I said at the beginning, these are uncertain times. However, it is not just up to me. It is up to every parent to let their MP know how important these services are. They are not bad people but they cannot know everything about everything and it is up to us to keep them informed about why practical services run by the voluntary sector really matter and deserve to be funded even in difficult times.
Have a fun summer and please do keep in touch.