North East Connected

Charity makes headway despite major setbacks

A NORTH EAST charity set up to support brain injury sufferers is showing it too has the mettle to fight back from adversity after overcoming a series of setbacks during the pandemic.

Headway Darlington & District, which provides vital support to adults affected by brain injury across the North East, has relocated to a new head office and overhauled its service offering in response to mounting challenges brought about by the crisis.

Offering support to individuals from across County Durham, Teesside and North Yorkshire, the independent charity was formed seven years ago by a group of brain injury professionals and is now relied upon by over 50 families, thanks to the hard work of its 25-strong army of volunteers.

Yet despite the organisation’s continued growth, Headway Darlington & District – like many others in the charity sector that rely on community funding – saw its main income stream slashed during the pandemic and was dealt a triple blow when it was forced to relocate and rethink its entire operation.

Amy Crosby, chair of the charity, said: “The pandemic has been a real challenge for us as we support a very vulnerable group of individuals. First and foremost, we had to completely rethink how we ran our service, as we could no longer run face-to-face sessions and the shift to virtual sessions was a huge challenge in itself.

“Brain injuries impact people in so many different ways, from physical impairments to invisible difficulties such as fatigue, noise sensitivity and disinhibition, so for many of our members the virtual support we trialled was just too overwhelming.

“We have such a diverse membership too with an age range of 26 to 82. The younger members coped a lot better but it’s been hard for the majority as some of them don’t even have wifi at home.

“We had to rethink our entire business model during a period when the cancellation of events such as the Great North Run was making fundraising harder than ever. Add to that the fact that we were given notice on our previous home of five years during the crisis and the past few months have been incredibly testing for us.”

While Headway Darlington & District was able to continue providing support to some members virtually, the team were desperate not to let the challenges brought about by the pandemic be the demise of the service and decided to look for a new home that would allow them to safeguard its future for years to come.

After viewing scores of office space across Darlington and its surrounding areas, the team were introduced to Business Central and – impressed by its close proximity to the train station and the flexibility of its office space – decided to grasp the nettle and relocate to the hub.

“The team at Business Central have been fantastic since we moved to the site in September 2020,” Amy added. “Many brain injuries are invisible and due to the adaption to change causing a significant strain for many survivors, we had to ensure our new venue had a warm and welcoming atmosphere, ensuring our members felt comfortable and welcome whenever they visited.

“We were only able to open for a brief period of five weeks, in between the first and second lockdown, however every member of the group that visited us at Business Central loved the space and the staff, which is exactly what we were hoping to achieve. Many have found it much more accessible than our previous base.

“It’s centrally located in the town, adjacent to the train station, and the views from our office looking over the town centre are absolutely stunning. It’s a place our members feel safe and that’s key to helping us grow as an organisation and reach out to more people.

“As we look to the future, we’re confident that with our revised strategy, which will hopefully see us secure more corporate partnerships and minimise our reliance on donations and the relaunching of our face-to-face sessions at our new home will help get us back on track and continue providing this vital service which supports so many vulnerable people and their families.”

Vanessa Wood, centre manager at Business Central, said: “Headway Darlington & District provides such a fundamental service to its members and their families and it fills us with great pride to have been able to work with them and provide a space that they can truly call home again. We are looking forward to working with them as we look to the future.”

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