Why CLAPA has moved to online events
Like many organisations, CLAPA moved many services online during the coronavirus pandemic. Now that restrictions have been lifted, we plan to continue with online-only events with the exception of Residential Weekends and an Annual Conference for adults born with a cleft. This page explains how and why we came to that decision.
From 2011-2020, much of CLAPA’s resources were focused on running local events such as Christmas parties and summer picnics with the help of volunteers. These brought together hundreds of families and children and created wonderful memories for many people. However, several issues became harder to manage as time passed.
- We could only get funding for a few regions in the UK; others had very little support and almost no local events.
- Because events were concentrated in particular areas, the cost of travel, time off work and childcare was too high for many people to attend.
- While some events had a brilliant turnout, others would struggle to get even a minimum number of bookings despite considerable interest beforehand.
- Events relied on active local volunteers. Once these volunteers stepped back from their roles due to other commitments, activity in those areas often stopped.
- Even with our strict policies, travel for staff and volunteers cost a lot of time and money. As prices rose rapidly, this started to become unsustainable.
Alongside these concerns, CLAPA faced a much bigger problem. Grants from the National Lottery funded this work, and there was a limit on how much they would give us. The last of this funding ran out in early 2020.
We’d hoped that, by running local events in some areas, local fundraising would increase enough for us to cover this loss, but that didn’t happen. CLAPA is a small charity, and even after cutting the rest of our budget to the bone, there was no way for us to keep running these services as they were. The money just wasn’t there.
Instead, we planned to compromise by shrinking these services and working as hard as possible to raise enough money to compensate for the shortfall. This plan would mean fewer events, but it was the only option. As part of this, we started looking at different ways of reaching people, including online events, which would be cheaper and quicker to organise and access.
This plan was agreed upon and ready to go in early March 2020. We all know what happened next!
The move to online events
The coronavirus pandemic forced us to rethink our services from the ground up to ensure we could keep supporting our community at such a desperate, uncertain time. We started running regular online events to give people a way to connect and share their experiences, and while not all of these experiments were successful, many of them proved an instant hit.
We now run a programme of regular online events, from topic-based support groups to skills workshops. Many of these began as suggestions from the cleft community, and we continue to regularly review feedback to help us ensure this programme of events is as accessible, appealing and effective as possible.
We know that online events aren’t ideal for everyone and can’t perfectly replicate in-person interactions, but there are several crucial benefits.
- Accessible across the UK without relying on local funding, so the support available is no longer a postcode lottery
- No travel costs, which many people told us prevented them from attending in-person events
- Reduced time commitment, which is ideal for those who would otherwise struggle with work or childcare arrangements
- Less intimidating to many than joining an event in person, as there is no pressure to participate or start conversations; people can join just to listen
We can run more events more often, organising them around specific topics and experimenting with formats. This means people at all stages of their cleft journey can find an event directly relevant to them and their experiences rather than joining a local event and risk feeling like an outsider.
Continuing with ‘digital-first’
When restrictions started to ease, and we looked at what CLAPA’s future held, we knew we couldn’t just go back to how things were. The world had changed, and so had our priorities. The NHS was on its knees, travel costs were through the roof, and our income had plummeted. We had to look again at CLAPA’s responsibilities as the UK’s cleft support charity and how we could reach the most people in an equitable, accessible, sustainable way.
Our in-person events were greatly valued by those who attended them, but overall, the cleft community consistently rated them as their lowest priority. That doesn’t mean they aren’t important or valuable – we know they are! But next to our other services, and with our increasingly tight budget, we couldn’t justify the resources they would need.
This is part of why we restructured our staff team in 2021. Before, our services team provided a range of support services and events in their local regions; now, they focus on developing and delivering one or two individual services across the whole of the UK. This has been a real boost for some of our most high-impact services, such as one-to-one emotional support, dealing with complex enquiries around cleft care, and encouraging involvement in cleft research.
CLAPA in 2022 looks very different from CLAPA in 2015, but so does the world we work in. We hope that those of you who loved our in-person events as much as we did can understand why we had to make this move and will continue to support us as we work to meet the challenges the cleft community will face in this next decade.
Why have we started running Residential Weekends again?
We kept three things in mind when considering restarting in-person events:
- Sustainability: events couldn’t be wholly reliant on local volunteers or local funding. These had to be a service people could count on well into the future.
- Impact: To balance out the cost of travelling to these events (both time and money), they would have to have a high and lasting positive impact.
- Equity: Everyone in the UK should have the chance to benefit from it, not just people in one or two areas.
We tried out several online events to bring together children and young people born with a cleft in this age group. While some events based around skills and boosting confidence continue to be successful, we know they can’t replicate the lifelong impact of our Residential Weekends. These are consistently rated as our highest-impact, most-valued service by those who participate. Despite the amount of organisation and monitoring these take, we believe they provide a truly life-changing experience that online or shorter in-person events can’t replace.
We know Residential Weekends aren’t equitable yet; they’re often too far for people to travel to, and we’re not currently able to offer travel bursaries to help, but we’re working on this. We’ll continue to move these around the UK as much as possible in the hopes that all 8 to 15-year-olds born with a cleft will have a chance to attend if they want to.
Annual Conference for Adults
CLAPA used to run an annual conference for everyone in the cleft community, and while this event was popular, it lacked focus and struggled with trying to tick too many boxes. As part of our VTCT-funded ‘Adult Services Project’, we ran two successful conferences in 2018 and 2019 focusing on the needs of adults born with a cleft. These were an instant hit; the focus on adults’ experiences and the chance to meet others born with a cleft in-person was a draw for people all over the UK.
Will we start running other in-person events again?
The short answer is: probably not.
At CLAPA, we pride ourselves on being adaptable. When setting strategy, we look at the evidence, listen to the community, tally up our resources, and make what we think are the decisions which best serve people affected by cleft in the UK.
Right now, we believe the best decision is to continue to develop our online services and focus on accessibility, growing partnerships, and creating resources like new information pages and videos. This is how we think we can have the greatest lasting, positive impact on people affected by cleft in the UK while staying within our tight budget.
If circumstances change in the future, we will change with them, but we can’t wait for that to happen.
We also can’t act under the illusion that the world will return to where it was five years ago when our regional services were in their prime. Not only do we not have the considerable grant funding which supported these regional events, but the environment we work in has changed.
People have less free time to spend volunteering for a cause. There are also many more rules and regulations to help keep vulnerable people safe, and while these are extremely important, they’ve led to more work for us behind the scenes. It’s not as straightforward as it once was to run our work through armies of local volunteers.
Fundraising has also changed dramatically. People have less money and are raising less for charities across the board. Many Trusts and grant-making organisations have closed or no longer support work like this because of changed priorities. The money we used to access to support our regional work just isn’t there.
CLAPA has changed significantly in the past few years, but our drive to support the UK cleft community remains unchanged. By pivoting towards online, UK-wide service delivery, we’ve become more equitable, accessible and flexible.
From 2022-25, our strategy will see us focus on using our limited resources in the best way possible on those services with the greatest impact. We will create high-quality resources that collect together all the community’s knowledge so every generation can have a better experience than the one before. We will work hard to understand and overcome the barriers that stop people from getting the support they need. We will form strong partnerships to help us fill the gaps in our services and ensure that people in our community always have somewhere to turn.
We hope you’re as excited about our future as we are and that you’ll continue to support our work however you can.