Cumbrian flood charity might fold in wake of Virgin Money Giving website crash

The Community Emergency Response Team reached the end of a grant last month and says it was relying on the fundraising site to remain viable

A charity set up to deal with the aftermath of the Cumbrian floods in 2015 is facing closure after a last-ditch appeal to save it was scuppered by the Virgin Money Giving website crashing over the weekend, the charity has said.

The Community Emergency Response Team, which has been supporting those affected by the flooding in Cumbria in December 2015, reached the end of a grant supplied by the Cumbria Community Foundation’s flood fund last month and has been unable to secure new funding.

In a last-ditch attempt to stay open, the charity set up a Virgin Money Giving page last Friday and promoted it on social media. It also asked the comedian Rory Bremner, a long-time supporter of the charity, to tweet a link to the page to his 64,000 followers.

But users complained that the Virgin Money Giving website crashed and was unavailable to receive donations for periods on Saturday night, Sunday and Monday, due to high demand from donors that wanted to sponsor runners in Sunday’s London Marathon.

Sue Dust, director and client liaison officer at the charity, said: "We were blanketing everywhere with the link to our page as much as we could. Then I got an email at the weekend saying ‘do you realise that the Virgin Money Giving site is down?’ – and I screamed rather loudly.

"It was the main outlet that we’ve got to try to raise these funds. I tried various times to get on to it, but it just kept saying the site was busy, please try again. In the meantime, more people were contacting me to say the site wasn’t working."

Dust said she believed the website failure had seriously damaged the charity’s ability to raise funds.

"People want to donate, but a lot of people will try a couple of times then realise it’s not working," she said. "They have good intentions and say they’ll try again tomorrow or the day after, but life gets in the way, you move on and then you never give.

"This was something we were relying on."

The charity had applied to various other grant-making bodies and funds, but Dust said their processes might be too slow to save the charity.

She said the had been in a precarious position before the weekend, but the failure of the fundraising campaign was "the last nail in the coffin" for the charity, she said.

The charity will close its doors to new clients today, but a private donation received on Tuesday should allow the charity to support its remaining beneficiaries and continue to seek further funding for another few weeks, Dust said.

The charity is working with about 300 people who are still displaced as a result of the flooding, and it offers free counselling to others who were affected by it.

"If we close our door, who’s going to look after these people?" Dust asked.

After the website crash, Virgin Money Giving said it would be adding 10 per cent to all donations made through the site on 23 and 24 April.

Virgin Money Giving did not respond before Third Sector’s deadline for this story.

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