A year like no other

It is difficult to sum up 2020 but it is probably fair to say that what we have experienced, and continue to experience, will resonate for a long, long time – and a lot of that will not be for the good. Global and national inequalities have been highlighted like never before and the fragility and frailties of the systems we live in and rely on exposed in a dramatic and sobering fashion. The effects of this pandemic are being felt across all areas of our lives and it is very difficult to gauge what this might mean in the years ahead.

In turn, working out what this might mean for a charity like the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity and the people it serves is not easy. The experiences of most of our beneficiaries will be diverse and for the most part detrimental. For some it was a year of educational disruption, forced isolation and unimaginable grief and loss. For others within our community, 2020 was spent at the vanguard of the national response to Covid-19, or contending with even longer periods of family separation, or even facing financial uncertainty and job loss.

For us, this points towards an even greater need for agility to meet the needs of beneficiaries as well as reducing costs and overheads wherever possible. One of the reasons that the RNRMC undertakes much of the fundraising for the naval charity sector is to allow fellow charities to focus their funds on beneficiaries. Equally, we are taking ever greater responsibility for the administrative functions in a number of those charities in a push for greater efficiency and economy. Our overall aim is to maximise income to support the full range of charitable outputs from all naval charities and beyond, from individual benevolence to amenities, and from proactive commissioning and partnering to the support of the welfare infrastructure across the wider military charity sector on which all beneficiaries rely.

As part of our strategic journey, we continue to focus on prevention and early intervention. 2020 was always going to be something of a watershed year for the RNRMC as we moved to operating as a commissioning agent rather than just a traditional grant maker. It was the year in which we launched six specially developed funding programmes for the communities we serve, born out of the findings of the 2019 RNRMC Need Report. The ability to flex and amend service delivery in response to improved understanding of need and lessons learnt is a major benefit of the commissioning approach and the advantages of this responsiveness was put to the test by the sudden onset of Covid-19. At the same time, we rapidly expanded and tailored our existing support in response to the pandemic’s devastating impact on the wellbeing of all those in our community.

At the outset of the pandemic last March, RNRMC Trustees approved the creation of a Hardship Fund to support those beneficiaries of the Charity adversely affected by the crisis whose needs could not otherwise be met by emergency funds or measures put in place by local and central government, or by other charities. 

To date, some 190 separate grants totalling in excess of £600,000 have been paid out through the Hardship Fund providing a genuine lifeline for some and making life more bearable for those contending with lockdown with a serving partner deployed on operations. As a result of the grants we have made, computer equipment has been provided to enable the children from low-income beneficiary families to participate in virtual home learning; thermal imaging equipment has been purchased and installed to help to keep veteran care homes safe whilst enabling precious visits by loved ones; the purchase of small electrical items has enabled Royal Navy veterans in sheltered housing to prepare meals in their own rooms whilst communal kitchens remain off-limits; passing out parades have been livestreamed to proud family members unable to attend in person; and, very sadly, our contribution to the costs of Covid-related funerals has helped to give affected Royal Navy families the time and space to grieve properly and to come to terms with the terrible and tragic impact of this disease. 

The role of the charity sector in fostering cohesion, individual wellbeing and bridging social divides will be critical to the national recovery. The Government’s £750 million rescue package for charities was an important step, but it was never going to be enough to safeguard their long-term survival. Charities form the glue that binds communities together at the toughest of times, and they have an absolutely critical role to play in supporting the most vulnerable, whose suffering is amplified in times of crisis. The RNRMC is a firm advocate of ever closer working and greater collaboration not only to profit from efficiency but also to enhance the visibility and voice of the Naval charity sector. We will continue to explore ways to provide a better experience for our beneficiaries to access and then navigate the support on offer.

Greenwich Hospital and the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity continue to work together to better manage financial demand and grant-making. Greenwich Hospital is represented on all RNRMC significant charitable committees and grants-panels and the two organisations are currently examining ways in which we might describe and publish the benefits, outcomes, and impact of our joint funding initiatives.

Demand for charitable services continues to rise. Much of the current research and development work we are involved in is about helping us to better understand the landscape beneficiaries inhabit, the challenges they face or might face, and assisting us to explore what might or will be required and allow us to get upstream of problems by more preventative and early intervention programmes before issues become crises.

The context that we are working in may have changed completely, but our commitment to support every serving and veteran sailor, marine and their dependants remains undiminished. It may have been a year like no other, but this has only served to strengthen our resolve to deliver the life-long support that our beneficiaries and supporters count on us to provide.

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