Charity boss steps up to raise funds with first London Marathon

The chief executive of a charity which has been been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic is tackling her first marathon to raise much needed funds.

Catherine Woodhead, of Muscular Dystrophy UK, said the charity has seen its income fall by around £2.8 million and has lost 19 of its 55 staff, while demand for its helpline services increased by 40%.

“This year has been a very difficult year for the charity sector,” she told the PA news agency.

“We’re calling it the perfect storm in the sector. There’s an increase in demand and that will continue.”

Catherine Woodhead, chief executive of Muscular Dystrophy UK, who is running the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon to raise money for the charity (Muscular Dystrophy UK/PA)
Catherine Woodhead, chief executive of Muscular Dystrophy UK, who is running the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon to raise money for the charity (Muscular Dystrophy UK/PA)

Mrs Woodhead said the charity realised there would be a shortfall in March and used the Government’s furlough scheme for 60% of staff before making redundancies in May, which she said was “the worst thing I have had to deal with”.

She added: “Having meetings with staff that you are making redundant on a screen is really hard.

“I had to let staff go who were really dedicated, brilliant staff, through no fault of their own.”

Mrs Woodhead regularly speaks to people with muscle-wasting conditions who are supported by the charity. She said anxiety has increased during the pandemic, but the charity has provided clear information to help them.

She said: “People have been really scared about what Covid means for them and their condition.”

The charity hoped to raise around £250,000 from the Virgin Money London Marathon, but expects to raise about £75,000 from the virtual event on Sunday.

There will be 117 people taking part for Muscular Dystrophy UK’s Team Orange, 79 who were due to take part in the mass event in April and 38 who signed up just for the virtual run.

Mrs Woodhead, 48, who has previously been part of charity cheer squads at the London Marathon, said: “I always said I wouldn’t do it. I have seen how much it takes out of people.”

She signed up after realising it was something she could do to help although her husband Robert, a primary school teacher, laughed when she told him.

Working from home in Chelmsford, Essex, Mrs Woodhead said her average daily step count was just 400 and it has been a challenge to increase it over just a few weeks, but she is determined to complete the distance.

“My blisters will recover, for some people they are not going to recover,” she said.

“I’m doing this because the charity means so much to me.”

Daughter Flossie, 12, will join her for the first nine mile section from 7am and son Eddie, 10, is expected to accompany her at the end.

She has already been inspired by messages like “Thank you for moving your muscles for those who struggle to move theirs” from supporters. Video messages from families helped by the charity will be sent to her for every mile.

Seventy thousand people live with muscle-wasting conditions in the UK and the charity funds research for treatments and cures, provides specialist support in the NHS, gives grants and advises on benefits.

She said Muscular Dystrophy UK also brings people together: “It’s quite isolating having these conditions.”

The muscular dystrophies (MD) are a group of inherited genetic conditions that gradually cause the muscles to weaken, leading to an increasing level of disability.

The progressive condition often begins by affecting a particular group of muscles, before affecting the muscles more widely.

Some types of MD eventually affect the heart or the muscles used for breathing.

There is no cure but treatment can help to manage many of the symptoms.

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