THE YEAR THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
Looking back over the past year we certainly could not have imagined where it would have taken us!
We have completely transformed the organisation in so many ways, adapting our services to ensure that everyone had the support they needed. Our team held up amazingly, carrying on through all sorts of challenges to keep our members and volunteers connected.
Our online zoom events and activities have been a highlight, keeping the excitement going throughout the past 10 months of restrictions. In addition to moving our regular activities online, we introduced many new activities and programmes; self-advocacy and discussion groups, magic shows, keep fit and games nights, all kept events running almost every night of the week.
Art club, cake decorating, pizza nights, bingo and zoom parties were accompanied by an exciting activity pack, keeping members connected. General packs were also sent to members of all ages, bursting with exciting, creative activities, ensuring they kept busy and knew that their Friendship Circle friends were thinking of them.
We have continued with our mission to change perceptions towards disability and help integration into the community. We have shared online events with local shuls and groups and continued to spread our message virtually as much as possible.
For many members, The Friendship Circle are their only connection to Jewish life. From delivering ready-made seder plates and Lag B’omer BBQs to Rosh Hashana Kits and a socially distant outdoor Sukkot celebration, we made sure that nothing got in the way of our members safely celebrating Jewish life and traditions.
Shabbat is one of the most special times that we share together at The Friendship Circle. Our regular Shabbat meals and host family programme have been sorely missed this year. We are currently planning our third Shabbat At Home event where fabulous Shabbat packs are sent out, followed by a pre-shabbat sing-along. Our members light the candles we have sent and feel a real connection to their Friendship Circle family who are all taking part together. After Shabbat we all join in a zoom havdala.
This Chanukah was truly special, standing out from all other years as being the most active and engaging Chanukah ever.
Before Chanukah even began, we had a fantastic menorah making competition with some incredible entries and winners. We also designed our very own Chanukah jumpers for the first time which were bought by members, volunteers, and the wider community.
The day before Chanukah, 100 of our members received a stunning Chanukah pack brimming with goodies, gifts, art, decorations, and everything that they would need to make Chanukah fabulous in their own homes. But this was only just the beginning!
Every night we gathered round our screens, menorah and candles at the ready and shared in the candle lighting together. Each night the blessings were led by a different member.
Separated by distance but brought together by our friendship and traditions.
Following on from the candle lighting and singing, each night offered an exciting activity for members and volunteers to take part in. From a game of online dreidel and quiz night, to a singalong and pizza and bingo.
The beating heart of the Friendship Circle is the buddy system. We have 80 buddies who speak to members multiple times a week, on the phone, on video chat or when restriction allow, they go out for a walk. Our buddies and volunteers have all been working in overdrive since Covid began, to support members in so many practical and emotional ways, going above and beyond to be there for their friends.
Looking back at the challenges that 2020 has thrown at us we are proud to say that not only have we managed to keep our members connected but our engagement levels have gone right up. Existing members, who previously were unable to attend, have become fully-fledged regulars on our zoom events, our membership has increased and more people are accessing our activities than ever before.
We could not have done this without the support of all our members, volunteers, supporters, and friends who have all played such an important role in creating this special and life changing
support network for so many people.
With best wishes for a 2021 that we all hope for.
Running The Friendship Circle requires round-the-clock dedication. There is no nine-to-five, or “closing the doors” at the end of the day. When Covid-19 and lockdown hit, these pressures weighed more heavily than ever, but there was also a renewed vigour not to give up on our vital work, despite the 24/7 challenges and hardships that our staff, volunteers, and members faced.
Closure was not an option; it was about how to keep our services going and adapting almost everything to go online. It has been a difficult time and continues to be so but there was no way we were giving up.
Financial uncertainty is a massive concern for most charities, including ours. We were delighted that our important work was recognised, and we were awarded emergency COVID-19 grants from The National Lottery, Charities Aid Foundation, Forever Manchester, Bury Council, Jewish Leadership Council and Jewish Youth Fund.
This funding, together with the continued support of our loyal Patrons and Donors enabled us to continue our essential work. More importantly, every penny received has filtered down to the ground level, providing our members with a vibrant jam-packed calendar of stimulating programmes and activities every night of the week.
The STAY CONNECTED campaign, which has been running for the last 9 months, ensured The Friendship Circle community grew stronger and wider than ever before, engaging more people than ever before.
January 2020 kicked off to a great start with Mike Basso’s Don’t Stop the Music variety show raising an outstanding £20,000, followed in February by an evening celebrating Diversity Through Art with guest speakers Frankie Cohen and Mark Adlestone.
Fundraising events came to an abrupt halt in March when lockdown arrived out of nowhere and hit us all, hard.
With all fundraising events cancelled, including a major dinner, our members and volunteers came to the rescue.
Following in the footsteps of Sir Captain Tom, they became Fundraising Heroes, undertaking individual challenges to raise money on our behalf. Climbing Snowdon, 10K walks, a Batmitzvah cookbook, bake-offs and scooting round Broughton Park were some of the challenges that took place, alongside communal quizzes, comedy evenings and poker nights.
As our Drop-in centre lay dormant, we became more creative to generate additional income. Reaching out to local businesses, we transformed our premises into a Pop-Up Shop.
We were overwhelmed by the generosity of the Jewish Community who donated sack-fulls of new branded items and are hugely thankful to our wonderful volunteers who ran the shop. We are especially grateful to Beauty Bay, Regatta, Pan World Brands, Singleton Trading, JD Williams, RSW International, The Comfy Group, Powerplay, J & N Herz, S & L Supplies, Character World, Manchester Asset Ltd and Hunter Price who in just a few short weeks, helped us raise over £5,000!
As we bid farewell (and good riddance!) to the end of 2020 we are extremely humbled and grateful to enter 2021 in a healthy financial position, thanks to all the support we have received from all of you. Thank you again for making our vital work possible.
Wishing you a very happy and safe new year.