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Letters / Open letter to Shetland Charitable Trust

Ability Shetland’s children and adults are among the most vulnerable in our community and will therefore suffer more than others from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. As we struggle to meet their acute and varied needs, we have been comforted by the huge number of messages of support and offers of help from the Shetland public, other charities and many of our major funders.

Unfortunately, the message from the SCT had exactly the opposite effect. Their decision to stop the process of planning for core funding left us shocked and dismayed.

Trust intends to steer canny course till coronavirus blows over


We had been delighted with their recent policy change to open up funds to bids. Of course, we understand that the current interruption of activities will necessitate changes in the allocation and operation of funding. We expected to be involved with them, fairly urgently, in that discussion.

Instead, they have decided not to engage in that negotiation and have put no date on its resumption, opting to leave us and other charities in uncertainty and confusion, just at a time when our clients need the security of knowing we’ll be there for them during this crisis.

We’re surprised that they think the process cannot proceed in the present circumstances. The evaluation of bids is a lengthy and complicated process, but it can be done from people’s homes. The negotiation and interrogation which accompanies it can be done online, on the phone or by mail.

We know that we are in a bidding process, with no guarantee of success. However, we also ‘knew’ that we would have their answer in June, giving us time to adjust to whatever was the outcome.

Now we don’t even have that security and, because they haven’t put any date on a future decision, we have to assume the worst and plan accordingly. It feels like we’re back in bad old days, when SCT had a declared policy of refusing all new bids.

At that time, Disability Shetland had a funding crisis and came near to closure. It made a small bid to SCT for core funding and received a flat rejection – with no discussion. I’m sure that isn’t the case now – but with the suspension of negotiation and no intimation of it reopening, you’ll understand our nervousness.

As you’ll know, we have changed our name and transformed our operation. As well as doubling our client numbers and professionalising our activities, we have taken over several projects from SIC, meaning that we now carry out individual and group programmes which are part of the compulsory core of statutory care provision.

All of this expansion and improvement gives us satisfaction without complacency – but also carries a huge responsibility and moral obligation. We simply must continue to serve our clients’ needs – and we need to know we have the money to do it.

When we were in our greatest difficulty, it was the Shetland people who saved us, responding magnificently to our fundraising efforts because they valued what we offer to the most needy members of their communities. As custodians of the Shetland public’s money, we hope that SCT agrees with them that our service is vital.

Although we have suspended our clubs and group activities we are still continuing to provide support and activities to those who access our services. We have weekly contact with individuals and their families through telephone and video calls, we are continuing to connect club members with each other through group chats, online group activities, and are part of the critical childcare offerings in partnership with the local authority.

We are currently putting together care packages for our clients, who are based the length and breadth of the isles.  We have not ceased delivering services and support to children and adults with ASN/disabilities and their families.  We can suspend our clubs: vulnerable, needy, disabled people cannot suspend their needs.

We are not asking for any preferential treatment, only the chance to lay our bid alongside that of other charities and organisations – and have it responded to with the necessary urgency.

Eleanor Robertson
Chairperson – Ability Shetland; and

George McGhee
Vice-Chair – Ability Shetland