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Going virtual, bubble blowing and lockdown lessons – Jane Craig, Dyslexia Sparks’ Founding Director, takes us through the highs and lows of leading a charity through the year that brought us the coronavirus crisis.

Challenge, Charity


“It’s been a roller coaster – sometimes scary, but mostly exciting!”

It’s been a roller coaster of a year for obvious reasons. To say it’s been strange would be an understatement. Yet there have been many fantastic moments where I’ve been so proud of how our wonderful team and Sparks community has come together in these difficult times.

We’re all in this together’ became a kind of national mantra this year. And together, the Sparks community has achieved so much.

When the world’s biggest single-day fundraising event, the London Marathon, was cancelled due to COVID-19 back in April, it sent a clear signal of the impact of the pandemic on the charity sector. Tough times were ahead – in no uncertain terms. Of course all industries have been hit hard by this year’s turbulent times. But charities have suffered the double blow of seeing increased demand for their services in the face of either diminished or completely cut income streams. Many charities are unlikely to survive the coronavirus crisis or have already folded. Meaning vital services are stopping at a time when they’re needed most.

As Hull and East Yorkshire’s only registered charity for dyslexia, we were determined to do all we could to minimise disruption of our specialist support while maintaining clients’ health and safety.

We monitored the coronavirus situation closely as it developed – and still do so – introducing additional hygiene measures early on so that we could continue to deliver specialist tuition and dyslexia assessments safely.

But as the pandemic grew and the possibility of lockdown became a reality back in March, I was faced with no option but to temporarily close our centres.

This could so easily have meant the end of our services. But, far from being defeated our team sparked into action. Responding swiftly and turning what could have been a crisis for us into a new direction for our organisation.

Our specialist tutors worked quickly, designing interactive and engaging resources so that we could move to online specialist tuition. This meant we could continue to support our students through lockdown. Providing support at a time when they needed it most in the absence of formal school education.

“Online lessons were so fun, it was a new experience that I have enjoyed lots. It was good to be able to do something which was normal when I wasn’t able to go to school and see my friends.” A Dyslexia Sparks Student

Like all charities we’ve been hit hard by the pandemic with reduced income and a significant decrease in our service provision.

It’s been a scary time to be a leader of a charity. With difficult decisions and sometimes sleepless nights.

Being furloughed wasn’t an easy place for any of our committed team to be. But ultimately these decisions needed to be made so that Dyslexia Sparks could survive.

I am so grateful for the passion and flexibility shown by my team. Particularly our specialist tutors who have worked around their own priorities and families – and still ensured they did all they could to meet the needs of our students.

Online tuition was so helpful during such strange times. It gave Jake some normality to his week and a chance to see and spend time with a familiar face and not someone from within the household. As Jake struggles very badly with his memory a huge break would have been detrimental to his learning but thanks to online tuition this didn’t happen.” Parent of a Dyslexia Sparks student

We’re lucky to be supported by two local trusts year round – and for that support to have continued throughout the crisis we will be forever grateful.  We’re also incredibly thankful for the emergency funding we secured.

In April, we entered the 2.6 Challenge – a fundraiser to help save the UK’s charities that was borne out of the 2020 London Marathon being postponed – and were so touched by all the families who supported us. Taking on their own challenges based around the numbers 2.6 or 26 (the number of miles in the London Marathon), they raised hundreds of pounds for our cause!

The support we received was critical in helping to bridge our income gap and also helped us deliver our specialist tuition in a different and safe way by moving online.

One of the fabulous fundraisers for our Challenge 2.6 – an incredible 26 bubbles blown with bubble gum! This wonderful young lady chose to support us because:

“Dyslexia Sparks helped me with not just my dyslexia but helped me with my confidence and made me feel that it’s ok not to be like everyone else.”

As the restrictions of England’s first lockdown gradually eased, we redeveloped our centres in Hull and Melton with COVID-19 secure measures in place.

We reopened in June and were so excited to welcome our Sparky students back to our centres and resume face-to-face tuition.

Importantly for us, reopening meant we could resume diagnostic dyslexia assessments again as these can only be carried out face-to-face.

“Dyslexia Sparks’ redeveloped centres include COVID-19 secure measures such as Perspex screens and strict additional hygiene procedures. We reopened our centres in June safely resuming face-to-face specialist tuition and diagnostic dyslexia assessments.”

We experienced increased demand from parents in the region as schools remain closed for the majority of pupils.

We heard from parents of children with additional learning needs – worrying that their children were falling behind as schools remained partially closed. Others found that home-schooling a child who struggles with literacy, numeracy or processing information had highlighted concerns that their son or daughter may have a specific learning difficulty.

It’s heartening for me that our survival as an organisation means we are able to be here for those families and provide the support the need through dyslexia assessments and specialist tuition. Yet despite all we have faced, we have made it through this far.

As Team Sparks progresses with our ‘new normal’ I think it’s safe to say that I’ve been on a charity challenge of my own these past few months!

It’s been a mixture of ups and downs, and it took a lot of courage at times, but ultimately it’s been a challenging experience which was very successful.

Thanks to the hard work, support and commitment of Team Sparks and our Sparks community, Dyslexia Sparks continues today to help dyslexic individuals flourish and achieve.

Here’s to a sparkier New Year!