East Devon charities represent the best of us

The Devon Air Ambulance lifts off following a recent incident

The Devon Air Ambulance lifts off following a recent incident - Credit: Ron Loynd

Over the past year, a dedicated army of volunteers across East Devon helped the NHS and ensured the most vulnerable among us could get essential food and medicines to the door. 
East Devon’s brilliant charities have played a crucial role delivering the services that thousands locally rely on. When the country locked down, fundraising events and activities all but ceased, posing a strain on finances and a real risk to some charities’ very survival.
In response, the government provided a multi-billion-pound package of coronavirus support which charities and civil society organisations have been able to access to help them continue their vital work – not least the furlough scheme, loans, lockdown grants, and a £750 million targeted support package. 
One question I’m often asked about charities is why the government doesn’t provide funding all the time. Partly, it’s about direct accountability to people who donate and charitable partners so charities are run effectively. Another big part is being operationally independent from government. Public funding can come with strings and hoops attached.
No better example of this principle is Devon Air Ambulance, funded by the people of Devon, for the people of Devon. The Exeter-based charity has run close to 30,000 critical care missions by helicopter and helped 936 patients in 2020. Through clinical and political independence, Devon Air Ambulance has the flexibility to invest in their medical staff, training, state of the art equipment and aircraft, as well as increase their operating hours into the early hours of the morning. To give an example of this in practice, specialist training is offered through a unique Masters Degree in conjunction with the University of Exeter. The government does periodically provide capital funding for England’s 18 air ambulance charities, though public donations remain essential for running day-to-day operations.
Still, charity fundraising has been hit desperately hard during the pandemic. Estuary League of Friends is a truly fantastic local charity based in Topsham, working to improve the quality of life of those in need of care, comfort and support. Ordinarily, the charity relies on community events for funding. Last year, I was delighted to support their successful application to the National Lottery Fund to keep services running and I’m really looking forward to visiting next week to catch up with Rachel Gilpin, Marilyn Ramsden and the team. Within four weeks of the first lockdown, Estuary’s staff and volunteers had delivered 228 doorstep drops of groceries and essential supplies, 322 freshly prepared hot meals, and weekly home visits to help 600 older, frail and disabled people.
Finally, I want to congratulate Jacob Towner at WESC Foundation who was voted Outstanding Apprentice of the Year after a county-wide competition and public vote. WESC goes above and beyond to support children and young adults with vision impairment and complex needs so they can break down barriers and live fulfilling independent lives.
It would probably take quite a few columns to highlight all of the fantastic charities in East Devon. One thing is certain though, they represent the best of us thanks to unstinting local generosity. I am really looking forward to attending several fundraising events planned over the next few months to offer my support, and maybe I’ll see you there.

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