Blind school becomes first victim of donation drop

The nation’s craze with the National Lottery has been blamed for
the closure of a special needs school Philip Whiteley reports.

Sunshine House school, sited in East Grinstead, is the National
Lottery’s first victim.

That, at least, is the verdict of the Royal National Institute
for the Blind, which blamed the financial impact of the national
flutter for its decision to close its specialist school in West

More alarming still, the RNIB has reported that it is £2.5
million in the red.

‘Since the lottery started, the amount being put into our
collecting tins has fallen by a third,’ Ian Bruce, the RNIB’s
director, reported at the charity’s annual review last month.

‘We estimate that in total the Lottery has affected us to the
tune of about £500,000. We are also experiencing a lower
response in our appeals to donors.’

In the same week as the school closure, leaked ministerial
letters revealed that the Treasury has pressed for lottery funds to
be used as a replacement for statutory grants. Although this was in
the context of the arts, tremors were felt all over the charities
world. Compounding the impact at the RNIB has been an unrelated
drop in income from legacies. This appears to be due to the slide
in the property market and the fact that many older people have
less to leave as they now have to pay for care.

‘It just so happens that we’ve had a bad year,’ said Lynne
Stockbridge, head of communications at the institute. ‘It isn’t
that people are not leaving us money, but they are able to leave us
less because they have had to pay for residential care, or their
houses are worth less.’

A major problem with the lottery has been the delay between its
introduction and the awarding of grants, Stockbridge said. She
added that the focus on poverty for the first round of grants,
which start to be given out this week, may mean groups like the
RNIB are not particularly favoured.

‘We are applying for funding under the alleviation of poverty
criterion, because we do a lot of work with visually impaired
elderly people, many of whom are on or near the poverty line.’

In the second round of grants, disability is specifically
mentioned, so there will be more chance for the RNIB to be
successful. ‘But whether we get it or not we don’t know,’ said
Stockbridge. ‘This is the catch for charities: there’s no guarantee
you’ll get it.’

Another uncertainty is whether the down-turn in donations is a
temporary impact of the lottery’s launch or whether it will prove
to be a permanent drain on donations.

The effect so far has been on spontaneous donations, according
to both the RNIB and the National Council for Voluntary

Stockbridge said collections were the most affected. ‘People are
spending that pound on a lottery ticket rather than putting it into
our tins.’

Adam Gaines, director of public affairs at the NCVO, added: ‘Our
research has indicated that there has been an impact on individual
donations.’ Also affected have been charities’ own scratch cards
and raffles. He added: ‘What appears to be unaffected by the
lottery is planned giving, like covenants and give-as-you-earn,
because they are more people’s conscious decisions.’

In the case of Sunshine School, one of five run by the RNIB, the
charity has pledged that any of the 16 pupils will have a place at
another RNIB school if requested. It is working with parents to
find out the best option for the children, each of whom have
multiple disabilities and are unable to attend mainstream

The closure will save the charity at least £300,000 a year,
Stockbridge said. ‘Hopefully we won’t have to close another

Together with savings and a renewed fundraising effort it is
hoped the budget will be balanced by the end of the next financial

Whether this effort will be boosted by a grant from the National
Lottery Charities Board is, perhaps, something of a lottery.

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