At this time of year, many of us find ourselves reflecting on the year gone by. For me, in my role as Chairman of Wessex Cancer Trust, I can honestly say that 2019 has very much been a year of mixed emotions. 

Firstly, I'd like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has helped us make a difference to anyone living with cancer. As a charity which relies on voluntary donations to fund its services within the community, we're so grateful for the energy, time and dedication given by all the individuals, groups and businesses who choose to work with us. 

Above and beyond 

We've seen once again this year that our supporters know no bounds when it comes to fundraising. From coffee mornings and bucket collections to epic personal challenges, our communities work tirelessly to fund and support our cancer services.

We've also had a successful events programme. In June, almost 300 people (and 30 dogs!) stepped up to take part in our third 'Walk for Hope' in the New Forest and raised almost £50,000. And in the summer, the Isle of Wight was awash with colour as over 900 people took on our 3k inflatable 'Rainbow Run' obstacle course whilst being pelted with powder paint! Together they raised over £33,000. 

The double-sided coin

Whilst we've had many reasons to celebrate in 2019, the team has been working tirelessly to stabilise our financial situation. Despite exploring all income sources and making cost savings, at the beginning of December we shared the news that we had been forced to launch a crisis appeal. This, of course, came as a huge and heartbreaking shock to everyone involved with a charity which has been supporting local families for over 40 years.   

There are several reasons for this. We have seen a 30% increase in demand for our services this year and have been hit by a 65% reduction in people leaving a gift and delays to some that had been notified. The decline in the high street saw our shop sales fall by 15% and a large, previously notified gift was delayed. These things tipped us into a crisis situation and, quite simply, we now need to raise £600,000 by the end of January of we could be forced to close.

Coming together

As I've mentioned, having to launch a crisis appeal was heartbreaking. But what drives us now is knowing how different our local communities will look without us. One in two of us will get cancer and a growing number of us are living longer after a cancer diagnosis. This means more and more people will depend on us in the future.

The initial response to the appeal has been overwhelming and we've raised £85,000 in three weeks

Reading the comments on our Just Giving page is truly humbling. We've seen people making a donation in lieu of sending Christmas cards, giving us part of their winter fuel allowance and donating the 50p coins they've been saving up. 

We've seen the very best in people and their response has been a poignant reminder of how crucial our support is. Cancer can be isolating. We bring people together, create communities, provide transport for patients to get to their hospital appointments and, through our cancer Support Centres, enable people to share thoughts they often can't express to their closest family and friends.

Every single comment and donation makes us even more determined to survive and I feel more passionate than ever about our future.

Of course, in this situation it is important that every donor knows their money is being looked after, and I wanted to take this opportunity to reassure you. It's important to stress that this is neither a Christmas appeal nor a planned campaign. It is a last resort and we've had no option other than to ask for urgent help. We've been working hard behind the scenes to make cost savings and explore all opportunities to generate income. Unfortunately, a large, previously notified gift did not materialise and this tipped us into a crisis. Looking to the future, I will meet with the Trustees on 9th January to assess the financial security of the Trust based on the early outcomes of the appeal and we will issue an update as soon as possible after that. 

A hopeful future  

The New Year is a chance for new beginnings and positive change. Like every credible charity we've spent a considerable amount of time this year reviewing how best to meet the growing and changing needs of the people we look after, whilst operating in a sustainable and financially responsible way. It's important to remain hopeful and ambitious, despite this difficult time. 

In the New Year we hope to be able to tell you more about our long term strategy and vision. We're confident we will be able to overcome this short term crisis and continue to be there for the growing number of local people living with cancer who depend on us for support. We also hope to be able to share with you some exciting news about a counselling project for school children, nutrition courses and a men's health campaign. In the meantime, why not check out our Ban It In Jan campaign where every penny you raise giving something up will go towards our crisis appeal.

Holidays are a good time to come together and reflect on what's important. Please remember us in your thoughts this festive season. Whatever you're doing and whoever you're spending it with, I send you good wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.

Barry Rinaldi, Chairman of Wessex Cancer Trust