Head shot of Nick Moberly

COVID-19: Rebuilding in the wake of coronavirus

This year has been one of the strangest, and hardest, I can remember.

The coronavirus crisis has turned all of our lives upside down. But its effects have been particularly severe for many in our MS community.

Being there for each other during the pandemic

At the beginning of the crisis I was so proud of how colleagues worked fast to find out what support our community needed to help them deal with the “here and now”.

And I remain proud of how they continue to face the challenges of the pandemic. Since March, all staff have been working remotely. For many colleagues dealing with related problems like loneliness, mental health issues or reduced access to childcare has been very challenging.

It’s been equally challenging for our volunteers. Local groups haven’t been able to meet in person. And I am hugely impressed by the way many have pulled out all the stops to support their members remotely.

Facing up to the financial challenge

The crisis has also dramatically affected our financial position.

Like so many charities, our fundraising income has dropped significantly as countless community fundraising events, marathons, sky dives and more have been cancelled.

The blunt truth is we’re expecting to lose around 30% (£10 million) of our income this year and around 15% (£5 million) next year. Though we hope the situation will improve, the outlook continues to be very uncertain.

When the crisis broke I worked with colleagues to pull together a package of cost saving measures to help us in the short term. This included taking the difficult decision to place more than a third of our colleagues on furlough leave, as well as pausing national grants and delaying planned new research.

Since then, the Board of Trustees, Executive Group and I have reviewed our financial position in detail. We’ve had to conclude we have no choice but to spend £4 million less each year going forward.

Some very hard choices

Working out how to make savings of this magnitude has been hard. Our guiding principle has been to minimise the impact on our MS community. But given the scale of savings we have to make, we’ve had no choice but to scale back some of the support we provide and make significant changes to our staff structures.

I very much regret the impact this will have for people in our community, for our wonderful volunteers, and fantastic staff. I also recognise the speed we’ve had to respond at has been very difficult. However, I do not believe we would have been serving our MS community well if we had shied away from these very difficult decisions.

Consulting on our two-phase proposal

At the start of July we proposed to our colleagues and volunteers plans to restructure the organisation in two phases.

Some of these changes were already planned, as part of our new five year strategy, but others have been made because of the pandemic. We’ve consulted and listened carefully to feedback. As a result, we made material changes to the proposals in phase one.

We’re working hard to make sure every employee at risk of redundancy has an opportunity to put themselves forward for alternative employment with us. But sadly, we will be losing around 33 posts, so expect to make some colleagues redundant.

What changes are we making in phase one?

At the end of last year, we restructured our Executive Group (leadership team) – reducing the number of Executive Directors by a third.

Our phase one changes include pausing our national grants programme for 2-3 years as sadly we can’t afford to run it right now. And closing our high dependency day care service in Northern Ireland. It provided fantastic care to around 30 people with MS each year but costs more than £200,000 to run. While some of this money came from local healthcare authorities, we now don’t have the funds to run the service.

We’re also planning to change:

  • the way we support local groups – bringing together support for volunteers offered by different departments into one central team
  • how we influence local MS healthcare services, by establishing a smaller UK-wide engagement team
  • how we fundraise in the community – creating one national team to increase consistency in our work.

We contacted volunteers and people with MS last month to confirm the plans.

Phase two of the restructure will begin in the next few weeks and focus on our internal support services, including facilities, finance and admin support.

We’re here for you

I know some of you might be concerned about these changes and I want you to know none of them have been easy. My absolute priority is making sure we can continue to be here for people affected by MS for the long term.

Our MS Helpline, webinars and services are running as normal. You can speak to our team of staff, volunteers and MS nurses about anything MS: from finances to legal aid, fitness to health information.

We’re still speaking up together for MS. Making sure our community’s voice is heard by governments across the UK on vital issues like welfare and access to treatments.

And our research programme is still rolling. Some projects are paused, or operating on a smaller scale, but we remain committed to stopping MS together. And, now more than ever, we need your help and support to get there.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me directly, or our supporter care team on 0300 500 8084 or supportercare@mssociety.org.uk.