What a year to write up! Where to start?! In January and February, it was very much business as usual. In February, we held a full Staff Team and Trustee Board meeting in which we set out our plans for the 12 months ahead, along with reviewing our longer-term charity strategy. It is only once a year that we get the full Staff Team and Trustee Board together, so we all came away excited and energised for the year ahead.

And then March came along, and EVERYTHING changed. The COVID-19 pandemic really took hold of the country/world and we found ourselves making some very difficult decisions.

Early on, we took the decision to cancel our face to face support groups. We also made the hugely difficult decision to cancel our extremely popular annual Alton Towers event. With hindsight, it was the correct decision as, shortly after, the first national lockdown came into effect meaning that the theme park was closed on what would have been our event date.

The next few weeks saw a couple of big drops for us. The first was a drop in demand for our services; fewer individuals contacting us for support and information and pretty much zero enquiries from schools, medical professionals, and media requests.

The other drop was the drop in our fundraising income. Spring is normally our busiest time for fundraising; it is that time of year when people ordinarily have more energy and enthusiasm for getting involved. But social distancing meant that most fundraising events were cancelled.

Like many other individuals, businesses and charities, we found ourselves thinking ‘How long is this going to go on for and what do we do next?!’

We needed to figure out a way forward. Our staff team spent time developing their skills, getting to grips with Zoom, Livestreams and video editing. We started to look at ways we could expand our digital provision. In the school holidays, we hosted online groups for children and we have recently expanded online groups to adults with alopecia and parents.

We also needed to ensure we tackled the drop in fundraising income due to COVID-19. In April, we supported the national 2.6 Challenge campaign (which was designed to replace the income lost from the cancellation of fundraising events such as London Marathon). We encouraged our supporters to set themselves fundraising challenges involving the number 2.6 or 26. We were delighted that some of our fabulous supporters embraced the challenge, notably some brilliant children and young people. We managed to raise over £15,000 (excluding Gift Aid) with the 2.6 Challenge which provided us with a much-needed boost (both in fundraising income and staff team morale!).

We then turned our attention to Alopecia UK’s 15th Birthday which we were due to celebrate in September (Alopecia Awareness Month). We were determined not to allow a Global Pandemic to stop us from marking the occasion. We organised an awareness and fundraising campaign, our ‘Birthday Bonanza’, on a scale we had not attempted before. And thanks to the 110 ‘Birthday Champions’ that signed up, we raised a huge amount of awareness, with hundreds of social media posts and even some media mentions. The icing on our birthday cake as also raising over £50,000 (including Gift Aid), absolutely SMASHING our original target of £15,000 (£15k for 15 years).

2020 also saw us award our first 'Hannah Dennis Alopecia Awareness Award' to eight year old Bonnie Pullan (read more about that here) and we created our fantastic 'Talking About Alopecia' animation (more here). We also made some brilliant videos as part of our 15for15 campaign (see them all here). 

The success of our two fundraising campaigns has really helped us through an extremely challenging year. Where other organisations have had to issue emergency appeals, we have weathered the 2020 storm. 

We have already seen the demand for our services resume, with new challenges around availability of GP and dermatology appointments, along with limited access to wig and hairdressing appointments leading to additional questions from our community. We are looking forward to 2021 and hopefully things getting back to ‘normal’.  We want to reintroduce our support groups and events when it feels safe to do so. Exactly when this happens in 2021 will very much depend on what happens with regards to COVID-19 restrictions on social distancing.

We have lots of work planned for 2021. The following list is not exhaustive but highlights a few of the things we are looking forward to in 2021:

  • Launching our new Schools Pack, an education and awareness pack to help children and young people affected by alopecia in school
  • Continued online meetings for children and young people in the school holidays
  • Improving and expanding the content on our website
  • Recruiting a new Research Manager
  • Rolling out a third round of our Research Pots Grant Scheme and developing some new research grant schemes
  • Introducing educational modules for those working with people affected by hair loss, including the psychological impact of alopecia, for the College of Trichological Science and Practice (CTSP)
  • Increasing the capacity of the charity by expanding and managing volunteer resource
  • Introducing new digital content including an Alopecia UK podcast and informative webinar series
  • Strengthening our infrastructure to ensure Alopecia UK is here for as long as we are needed for
  • Continuing our work with NHS England on a Best Practice Charter for Wig Provision
  • Working with the Centre for Appearance Research to progress our Men’s Project

Whilst we have lots of work in the pipeline for 2021, the area that is difficult for us to predict or plan is the fundraising side. We feel it is going to take quite some time for our fundraising levels to return to ‘normal’. We hope we may be able to have another fundraising campaign in 2021 but having organised the Birthday Bonanza in 2020, we know just how much work is involved! (which takes us away from the other goals we want to achieve).

How you can help?

What we really need in 2021 is for more people affected by alopecia to support Alopecia UK with a regular monthly donation. Now, more than ever before, we need those who value the work of the charity to help us continue what we do with a monthly donation. No amount is too small. If everyone who benefited from the charity’s work was able to give back with a small monthly donation, we would not need to worry about the longer-term impact of COVID-19 on fundraising.

Compared to other charities, we currently have a relatively small number of regular donors. They give between £1 and £24 a month. Every single donation received is hugely appreciated. And we have always stated that we will never pester our regular donors to increase their monthly donations; a promise we continue to stand by. We hope to improve how we demonstrate the impact of regular gifts made by our donors but we will not pressure anyone to increase their donation.

Currently our regular monthly donations total just under £750 a month, or £9,000 a year. This is wonderful. However, if we could boost our number of regular donors in 2021 it could really help us to concentrate our efforts improving the lives of those affected by alopecia through our aims of Support, Awareness and Research.

Whether you donate £3 (the cost of a coffee) or £10 (the cost of a takeaway for one), your regular monthly gift would help Alopecia UK enormously.

We know that 2020 has had a devastating financial impact on many individuals. We recognise that not everyone will be able to support Alopecia UK with a monthly donation. But if you can afford to help the charity, we would be very grateful for any amount you can give. Thank you.