It is less than four years since For Rutland came into being so it is an utterly remarkable feat that the efforts of the specialist advisers they employ have realised more than £2m for people facing one of the worst times in their lives.
For Rutland came into being in June 2014 and last month its books revealed that its advisers - the charity now proudly employs two full-time specialist advisers for people with long-term health conditions at Citizens Advice Rutland - had helped their clients to benefit from £2m of grant or benefit funding. That’s money they would not have realised they could access had it not been for the advice they were given. Every £1 raised results in £5 raised from grants and Government funding.
These advisers - Julie Bell and Liz Steele - provide free, confidential non-medical advice and support to anyone of any age suffering from any long-term medical condition. They help people with practical problems, such as accessing NHS services, benefits, housing, debt, employment and relationship issues - leaving their clients free to focus on their health.
But, Elizabeth Mills, Trish Ruddle and Caroline Hammond - members of the fundraising committee - believe they have barely touched the surface.
One in four people will have a long-term illness at some point in their lives and although the advisers offer support to anyone of any age, Rutland’s population is ageing.
By 2035, it is estimated that one fifth of the population will be over the age of 65 and in Rutland, it is estimated that 26 per cent of the population will be over that age.
But long-term conditions affect those of any age and include people suffering from mental health conditions who are also seen by Julie and Liz.
The news comes as a boost for the fundraisers as they prepare for their biggest event of the year - the good and new clothes sale, which is in its 51st year in operation.
This year’s event will start with the men’s clothes sale on Friday and Saturday, February 23 and 24, and will be followed just a week later by the most popular sale, of clothes, shoes and accessories. It will kick off with a ticket-only event at Barnsdale Lodge Hotel on Friday, March 2, and be followed on Saturday, March 3, by the sale - where clothes, many of which are designer and new, will be sold at half-price.
The event attracts queues before it opens at 9am but make no mistake, there’s enough to go around and every year by the time the doors are closed at 1pm, there’s still dozens of items left. Most are donated to Loros hospice but in an ideal world, the racks would be left empty and the tills overflowing.
“Every year we’re left with items and we can’t understand why they’ve not been bought,” Caroline says, while Trish admits that some of the items left on the rails are “just too special to give away”.
This year’s event is kindly sponsored by local law firm Hegarty Solicitors and preparations by the dozens of volunteers involved have continued since last year’s sale.
It is hoped that this year’s good and new sale events will raise about half of what the charity must raise each year just to make ends meet.
But it is not just the benefit of what their fundraising efforts mean for the residents of Rutland that keeps the For Rutland volunteers going. Without the cash pouring in, Julie Bell and Liz Steele, who are not just advisers but friends to many of the volunteers, would be out of a job and countless Rutland residents would be without the invaluable support they provide at the worst time in their lives.
For Rutland - technically a charitable initiative as it is an off-shoot of Citizens Advice Rutland - is still in relative infancy. It came into operation in June 2014 but its roots go much further back. Previously many of those involved, including Elizabeth Mills and Trish Ruddle, had been part of a fundraising committee operating on behalf of Macmillan Cancer Support - a group that existed for more than 50 years.
That committee established the good and new clothes sale - which has grown to be the largest of its kind in the country.
Macmillan had previously funded a dedicated adviser for the county but when it announced it was centralising some of its support and could no longer offer a Rutland-based adviser, the intrepid fundraisers were determined to make sure any money they raised stayed in the county and decided to fund the same service themselves.
Keen to dispel some misconceptions, Trish says there are no ill feelings with Macmillan Cancer Support, a charity which she is still supportive of.
“Our aims were just different,” Trish said. “We were determined to make sure that the money we raised in Rutland stayed in Rutland.”
It was during Trish’s time as High Sheriff of Rutland that she first spoke about the idea of funding the advisers with the then CEO of Citizens Advice Rutland Jane Clayton-Jones, who supported it whole-heartedly.
Setting up as a fundraising arm of Citizens Advice Rutland meant that the group had the support of a larger organisation and could get underway straight away.
It was no mean feat as all money raised up until March 31, 2014, was money for Macmillan and had to be handed over. But despite an empty bank account on April 1, 2014, the service did not cease for even a day, with the Karen Ball Fund helping fund a part-time adviser for two and a half days a week in the form of Julie Emberton.
When Julie left, she was replaced by Julie Bell in April 2015, who was soon joined by Liz Steele in April 2016. Liz and Julie are still employed full-time and their salaries and other associated fees are funded wholly by For Rutland.
“It was quite hard at first,” recalls Trish. “We had to start again from scratch but we knew we had the support and I am so impressed by what the advisers are now offering. When you have a problem, you can go to them and they will help you.”
Today, incoming CEO Simon Mutsaars remains just as supportive of the work of For Rutland and in fact, if it was up to Citizens Advice Rutland, the For Rutland team would be funding more than the two full-time positions.
But they are keen not to bite off more than they can chew for now. They’re just focusing on what they have achieved and for them it is seeing the difference that the advisers can make. That was brought home to them when they met Amanda Bills. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age and thought she would have to lose her independence while going through treatment and move back in with her parents.
Thanks to the advice she received, she was able to get the support she needed to stay at home and work out a solution with her employer, meaning she could work from home when she could. Now she is in remission and last year cut the cake at the 50th good and new clothes sale.
“She has retained her quality of life and her independence,” Caroline said. “It’s just so lovely to see. It makes you realise what a difference you’re making.”
But it is no longer just support for those suffering from cancer, it is non-medical support to improve the lives of anyone living with any long-term condition. In one instance, a working age client and his wife contacted Citizens Advice when he was forced to give up work due to a chronic heart condition. Thanks to the support of Citizens Advice, the wife was able to obtain carer’s allowance, and together with help towards rent and council tax, the advisers gained £466 a week for the couple.
As well as the good and new sale, there are a series of events to raise funds for the charity each year - many of which have already become staples in the Rutland calendar.
Dates for your diary in 2018 include Bridge for Rutland on Wednesday, April 25; the second annual Run for Rutland for youngsters at Rutland Showground on Saturday, April 28; Ride for Rutland at Exton Park on Sunday; May 6; the popular bottle tombola as part of Rutland County Show on Sunday, June 3; and Golf for Rutland on Friday, September 7.
Fundraisers also go out in force to collect at the Boxing Day Hunt, thanks to the support of the Cottesmore Hunt, and individuals are starting to do their own events for the charity.
To find out more about the valuable work of this charity visit www.forrutland.org.uk
n For more information about the sales please contact 01572 724400 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone wanting to donate men’s. women’s or children’s clothes and accessories please contact 0771 0873811 0r info@forrut