Thriving in Uncertainty

I wonder if I’m not the only person who struggles with uncertainty. 2017 has been a year where I’ve personally had a lot of uncertainty to live with — a reality that makes me grimace internally. The Bridge belongs to that group of small charities that make up 90% of the UK’s charity sector and yet receive only 10% of charitable donations made in the UK every year. As such, we’ve had to get used to uncertainty for years. The start of this year was no different…

Having had a fantastic previous year of fundraising — including donations from several grant-making trusts and two highly successful fundraising events — I started 2017 with the news that, due to a sharp drop in room occupancy in the latter half of last year, we had a funding shortfall (rent being our primary source of income) and the trustees needed me to raise £10k. Pronto. Not the start to the new year I’d envisaged. Through gritted teeth and muttering under my breath, I turned to our incredible supporters who responded, well, incredibly! Sometimes in this work you ask: ‘does anyone out there care that men and women are dying because of drug and alcohol addiction?’ The heart-warming response was a resounding: ‘yes!’ Donations poured in. The message was clear: ‘we’re with you in this’. It was a humbling moment.

A suggestion from a supporter led us to make our first tentative foray into online crowdfunding. The team at Crowdfunder UK (a Cornwall-based crowdfunding website) picked up on who we were and quickly bought in to what we were trying to achieve. They offered unprecedented support, going the extra mile to make sure we got the maximum funding we could. We had been concerned that many of the residents who graduated successfully from The Bridge recovery programme were ‘falling off a cliff edge’ (lapsing) when they moved into independent accommodation due to a lack of transitional support. We wanted to use the crowdfunding campaign to stimulate development of a transitional support service for people who were moving into their own accommodation. The result was a £5,000 match-fund from Birmingham City Council, which brought our crowdfunding total to £10k.

Now, I’m not pretending for a minute that running a crowdfunding campaign was a piece of cake (just look at how haggard I look in those last video updates), but to see so many respond and say, yes these people’s lives matter, and yes we want to support them, was humbling. As the year moved forward we were encouraged to see that our efforts to build up more referrals were resulting in the houses filling up with people. Having ended 2016 with long stints of the houses being half-empty (a frustrating consequence of the referrals ‘bottleneck’ that had resulted from a wide-ranging overhaul of drug and alcohol treatment services in the city), we worked hard to build new links with local (and regional) organisations, in order to increase our referrals. The resulting influx saw our occupancy bounce up, 25% higher than the start of the year, to a much more sustainable level.

Excitingly, we were able to start implementing some new developments, as we began to explore what The Bridge’s future might encompass. The first, as I mentioned, was a fledgling move-on service for residents who had recently graduated from the project. At the end of October, one of our longer-term residents moved into his own flat in south Birmingham. We immediately started engaging with him intentionally and regularly. Last week he invited a few of the support staff over to his new flat for a cup of tea and a catch-up. He is doing really well.

As we looked ahead at developing our own move-on service, we started to look at other organisations that were innovating in the area of supporting vulnerable people towards independence. As a result, we began to connect with an Oxfordshire-based organisation that had been exploring alternative funding models based on evidence-driven results. We look forward to exploring this link further in 2018.

The second major development for The Bridge was the planning and implementation of a training programme to equip individuals from churches to support men and women struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. We had a hugely positive response from church leaders, who indicated a real demand for this type of training. We look forward to launching a full training programme in the coming year.

2017 has been a year of uncertainty but it has also been a year of pleasant surprises, of doing things we didn’t know we could do. It’s been a year that’s included: employing previously-unseen acting skills for an online video; seeing people move on and thrive in the community; and forming a formidable support team. This Christmas we’ll be looking back on a year of uncertainty with an equal measure of gratitude and celebration. I wonder if you could join us in helping make it the ‘best Christmas ever’ for our residents by supporting our Christmas campaign

Whatever happens next year, there is no doubt that the work we do transforms people’s lives and that those who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction need services that will care fiercely and fearlessly for them as people. Of that, we can be absolutely certain.

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