As the regional development director for Variety, the Children’s Charity, Charlotte Farrington has witnessed first hand the struggles of countless families as they battle with illness, disability and poverty.
Thanks to the incredible generosity of Yorkshire’s business community, Variety has been able to be a force for incredible good in supporting these families.
From revamping dilapidated special education needs schools, providing vital medical or mobility equipment or ensuring that some of the poorest children in Yorkshire get a proper Christmas party, Variety is very much on the frontline.
Much of the income it relies upon to fund these endeavours which change lives, come from events which the region’s business community is extremely familiar with.
The Yorkshire Property Awards and Yorkshire Business Awards generate hundreds of thousands of pounds for the charity and bring together the region’s leading business with a common goal of helping those who need it most.
However, as coronavirus threatens our very way of life, so too it is impacting the work Variety does.
The charity has already had to postpone the property award event in May which routinely welcomes a sold-out audience of more than 1,000 people. With no end in sight for the restrictions on mass gatherings, Variety is already expecting to see income generation drop by 50 per cent.
Faced with this unprecedented challenge, Charlotte is, understandably, most concerned.
“There have been tough calls to make,” she told The Yorkshire Post.
“The hardest part in all of this is that, ultimately, the children we support are the most vulnerable in society.
“Whether that is because they are sick, disabled or disadvantaged – these are the children that need our help more than ever. And the fact that as a charity times are so uncertain and that we can’t commit that support at this point in time is really, really difficult.
“Nobody could possibly have imagined that all of our income streams would have dried up overnight but that is the reality of what has happened.
“But we have to get through it for the children and families that we help. We have got children in Yorkshire, waiting for equipment that desperately need our support. I am certainly going to do all I can to make sure we deliver that.”
It is this reality that Charlotte and her team are finding the hardest to deal with.
“In order to ensure that as much of our supporters’ money reaches the children we serve as quickly as possible, Variety only carries two months’ worth of running costs as reserves.”
Carrying substantial reserves can also penalise charities when it comes to applying to trusts and foundations for funding.
During our conversation she never mentions once the impact it is having on the organisation’s staff and security, focusing instead solely on the families it supports.
Fighting back tears, she said: “The hardest thing in all of this is the conversations we have had to have with the families that we support.
“School closures are going to be really interesting. The pressure on families to put food on the table. They are already struggling now. With the schools closed down, what impact is that going to have?
“We all live such busy lives and it is quite easy to go through life completely oblivious to some of the struggles that other people have.
“When you get an application in from a parent who wants a specialist bed so that their child can die at home, as opposed to dying in a hospice … things like that show that whenever you think you have had a bad day that there are people so much worse off.”
When talking about her role, Charlotte describes her position with Variety as a vocation rather than her job. Those involved with the work it does are aware of the incredible amount of hours and effort she and her team put in.
However, she insists that the charity and the people it helps have given her far more than she has given it.
“We have been helping children for 70 years and as far as I am concerned coronavirus is not going to stop us,” she said.
“It is going to be a tough time for us to ride this out, however when my back is up against the wall is when I tend to come up with my best ideas.
“It is sink or swim and we have absolutely no intention of sinking.”
Businesses large and small are battling to cope with the phenomenal disruption Covid-19 is bringing to the fore. During our conversation Charlotte is at pains to point out that she understands this completely.
Her plea to the sector is that, when they are in a position to do so, please keep them in mind.
“I imagine the last thing people are thinking of right now is supporting charities.
“But a message I would like to get out there is that, when they are in a position to help then please don’t forget about us.
“The Yorkshire business sector is amazing and have come through times of adversity before. They are incredibly generous and really do care.
“I have also found that in all my years of fundraising that when you ask somebody for help, nine times out of 10 they come back and say ‘yes’.
“I never doubt the generosity of the Yorkshire business community and I know that when the time is right they will come through and support us.”
Variety has set up a Just Giving page for anyone who wants to assist which can be reached at uk.virginmoneygiving.com/VarietyYorkshireBeginnings
Charlotte’s involvement with Variety began nearly 10 years ago when she was head of marketing in the North for Begbies Traynor.
Her boss at the time, David Wilson, was then the chairman of Variety in Yorkshire. One day he came to her with an unusual request. “He had asked me to take 90 children to the National Railway Museum,” she laughs. “I was like ‘yeah sure, I can take 90 kids to a railway museum’.”
After volunteering for a few years she was asked to come on board full-time to run the show.
The move was, she said, “ a complete jump into the unknown” but ultimately proved to be “the best decision I ever made”.