2023: A Year in Review
January 22, 2024
A lot has happened over the past 12 months at Ronald McDonald House Charities UK, from a charity-wide cost-of-living crisis report, to the announcement of a multi-million-pound refurbishment project and our first ever dedicated coverage on national television. We supported more families than ever before, growing our room numbers by 25%, following the successful mergers with our Alder Hey and Bristol Houses. As we reflect on 2023 and all we have achieved, we thank our supporters for being at the heart of everything we do and for making it possible to provide free ‘home away from home’ accommodation and support to more than 8,400 families with a child in hospital. As an exciting new year begins, here’s a retrospective look at some key moments, milestones, and memories from 2023.
January: Challenges and child-focused wellbeing support
As living costs continued to rise at the beginning of last year, we wanted to find out to what extent our families were being impacted. In January we rolled out an eight-week cost-of-living survey of families who’d stayed in a Ronald McDonald House within the previous six months. Through our survey, we collected data and testimony on the cost of living for families who find themselves in the most difficult of situations, to help inform and shape our decisions about how we could help families cope better, so that they can focus on the needs of their sick child.
At times compounded by the financial pressures their parents face, the children who stay in our Houses can find it stressful being somewhere new, while worrying about their sick sibling in hospital. That’s why, in January, we were proud to launch a partnership with myHappymind – an NHS-backed, award-winning programme which uses scientifically-proven strategies to help develop resilience and self-esteem. The team at myHappymind created a bespoke programme just for families in our Houses, to support them in developing coping strategies.
Thanks to the incredible efforts of our supporters, we raised more than £200,000 from challenge events in 2023, in part thanks to a marketing campaign launched in January. The “If Joe Can” campaign helped inspire a big uplift in sign-ups to our spring running events and our “If they can” campaign, which ran alongside it,promoted the Inflatable 5K series to McDonald’s staff.
February: A whole lot of love (and pancakes!)
On 11 February, we had an incredible night at our Oxford ‘Love and Light Ball’. Thanks to the collaborative effort of many teams, sponsors and volunteers, the event was one to remember, and an amazing £80,000 was raised for the Charity.
Love was still in the air on 14 February, when Houses were decorated with hearts and red balloons and presents given out for Valentine’s Day. Staff put on themed craft sessions for siblings and special meals were prepared to help share the love with our deserving families.
On 27 February, our House in Moorfields Eye Hospital, London celebrated its ‘Sweet 16’ birthday with a party featuring a whole host of guests. The Mayor of Islington came to enjoy the celebrations, as well as the Pearly King and Prince of Finsbury, who kindly donated £500.
Finally, February wouldn’t be complete without pancakes and a special Pancake Day donation from our friends at Signature Foods, meant every family could enjoy delicious sweet and savoury crepes on Shrove Tuesday.
March: Celebrating mums, a new day room and a mystery masked singer!
In March our Southampton House was delighted to welcome friend of the Charity Aston Merrygold for a special visit. The JLS star donned the robin costume, he previously sported on ITV’s The Masked Singer, to give staff families an exclusive performance. Aston revealed his identity as the crowd chanted: ‘Take it off! Take it off!’. The popstar was working with McDonald’s again to promote the limited-edition Masked Singer Happy Meals® and showcase the work of our Charity.
In our Manchester House, we officially opened the newly updated Day Room, which cost £175,000 and was thanks, in part, to the incredible fundraising of the late Steve Burne, who sadly died in October 2018. The beautiful new Nordic-inspired space, which includes a brand-new fully fitted kitchen with an island, was also made possible by Alliance Group, who’ve been proud supporters of Ronald McDonald House Charities UK for more than 10 years. They contributed an amazing £35,000 towards making this project a reality.
Mother’s Day was a special occasion for us, as we honoured mums for their love and dedication to their families. Houses supplied breakfasts, delivered treat bags, and hosted wellbeing sessions to pamper all our well-deserving mums.
For World Sleep Day on 17 March, we announced our exciting partnership with Sealy UK & Ireland, who donated brand-new (and incredibly comfortable) beds, made for our Charity’s needs. The bespoke single beds have pull-out trundles, so a family of four can sleep comfortably, just a stone’s throw away from their child in hospital.
April: Easter treats and amazing feats
On 12 April, Former Emmerdale actor Kelvin Fletcher and his wife and fellow actor Liz Fletcher, hosted a ‘Easter Wonderland’ event on their 120-acre Peak District farm, and invited 25 of our families to enjoy it, free-of-charge. The families were treated to a treasure hunt, performances from Alice and the Easter Bunny, and the opportunity to meet the lovely animals. ITV Granada Reports came along to capture the event and the story was widely reported across several other media including BBC Radio Manchester and Farming UK.
Inside our Houses, sweet treats were in abundance over the Easter Weekend, when parties were held and chocolate eggs were distributed, bringing some spring sunshine to families facing a tough Easter holiday with a child in hospital.
Also in April, a whole family of fundraisers raised more than £10,000, by getting on their bikes to complete a three-day Scottish Coast to Coast ‘Ray of Light Ride’, to honour Eilidh Richards, who died aged just six weeks. Eilidh’s parents stayed in our Camberwell House based next to King’s College Hospital in London, when she was sick with a rare, terminal mitochondrial disease.
On 22 April, families, staff, volunteers, and special guests including the Mayor of Southwark, came together to celebrate the refurbishment of our Camberwell House, with a tea party. The £600,000 revamp, which included the redecoration of all 24 bedrooms, began in June 2022 and was completed in February. The work was part of our over-arching reinvestment and long-term maintenance plans.
Staying in the capital and on 23 April, a very vocal Ronald McDonald House Charities UK cheer squad assembled at the TCS London Marathon, to support our 19 runners at mile 22 of the iconic 26.2-mile course. The weekend began with a pasta party for competitors, hosted by the Evelina London House team, and ended with a post-race reception at the Institute of Contemporary Arts on The Mall. A total of £55,000 was raised by our incredible runners, some of whom included parents who’ve stayed in our Houses when their sick child was in hospital.
April was also the month that, in partnership with Veolia, an efficient new sustainable waste management system was launched across our Houses, with the aim of achieving a recycling rate of 31%. The new system has standardised methodology across all Houses, and increased recycling engagement and confidence.
May: Soap stars, a YouTuber, and a right Royal knees up!
There was more marathon success in May, when House Manager Ross King fulfilled a lifelong ambition by completing the Edinburgh Marathon in 3:39:47, raising nearly £1,000 for the Charity in the process.
In May we were thrilled to be part of a fantastic awareness and fundraising campaign throughout McDonald’s UK restaurants. The campaign included presence on tray liners, noticeboards, window screens, and a front counter takeover. Facepainting was welcomed back into restaurants, to help raise vital funds, promoted by popular YouTuber and influencer Louise Pentland.
On 6 May we had a royally exciting day in our Houses, celebrating the Coronation of King Charles III. Bunting was hung, tea parties were held, and coverage was shown on communal televisions, for families wanting to take in the momentous occasion. BBC Midlands Today came to cover the festivities at our Birmingham House’s indoor ‘street party’.
Stars from the hit Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks laced up their boots for a charity football match in May, in aid of Ronald McDonald House Charities UK. The star-studded game took place at Runcorn Linnets FC’s APEC Taxis Stadium in Cheshire on 10 May. It was organised by dad-of-two Alek Dargie, whose son Raffi has been treated for a serious heart condition at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool. Alek and his family were accommodated, free-of-charge, at our Alder Hey House.
In May we were proud to announce our new status as a Disability Confident Committed employer, and as such, we set out five core commitments:
June: Parties, Pride, and powerful results
In line with what we’d been hearing anecdotally from our ‘frontline’, the results of our January Cost-of-Living Survey, which we released in June via our Cost-of-Living Report, painted a bleak picture:
– 7 in 10 people reported their finances were negatively impacted by having a child in hospital
– More than 2 in 3 people said the cost-of-living crisis is causing their mental health to suffer
– Almost a quarter of families have skipped meals to help make ends meet
The testimony was often heart-breaking too. One respondent said: “We faced tough decisions of my husband having to go back to work as we couldn’t afford our bills. We were in our overdraft, couldn’t afford to get food…. It was tough.”
When asked if staying in a Ronald McDonald House had helped to ease the financial burden of having a child in hospital during the cost-of-living crisis, 91% of respondents said it had.
Our results allowed us to raise the issue of how our families were struggling with the cost of living, through coverage on BBC One’s BBC Morning Live and across a range of local and regional media titles. We were also able to share this research and collaborate with a wide network of other children’s health charities via the National Council for Child Health and Wellbeing.
Our cost-of-living survey findings drove us to improve and expand our Grab & Go programme, which provides free, quick and easy snacks and drinks for families preparing for a long day with their child on the ward. From initial trials in 2022, Grab & Go has become an integral and permanent part of the support services we provide in Houses. We have invested in quality equipment such as display units, shelving, and coffee machines, and have welcomed donations from businesses and supporters who’ve got behind the scheme.
To mark Pride Month, charity employees were invited to wear our new Pride lanyards, not only in June but throughout the year, as we show our continued allyship to the LGBTQ+ community. We also introduced and provided guidance on the use of pronouns for staff. On social media, we shared the story of mums Courtney and Amanda, who stayed in our Birmingham House when their newborn baby Hayden was being treated for a very rare heart condition. Pride Month was an opportunity for us to reiterate to our supporters that we’re proud to accommodate and support all families who need our help when their child is in hospital, no matter who they are, or who they love.
Our House supporting families at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool celebrated its milestone 30th birthday in June with a party supported by McDonald’s. Families came in their droves to enjoy food, entertainment, and games. McDonald’s provided a giant party kit and Happy Meals, as well as crew to volunteer and face paint on the day. The event kicked off a summer of parties supported by McDonald’s, who helped at a total of 12 House celebrations between June and September, including a Superhero party in Birmingham, attended by celebrity Aston Merrygold.
On 17 June, many of our incredible employees, including CEO Ella Joseph and her family, leapt out of their comfort zones to take on an Inflatable 5K. They joined supporters to tackle the 30-obstacle course in St Albans, to raise money for the Charity. Later in the year, more members of staff got involved at the Wolverhampton and Stratford Upon Avon courses.
Also fundraising for our Charity last year were Southampton Deputy House Manager Becky Baines and Tooting House Assistant Jodie Henry-Francis, who both bravely took to the skies for a parachute jump from 11,000 feet! Meanwhile, Oxford’s Deputy House Manager Kelly Gillett completed her first triathlon in June, as well as the notorious Three Peaks Challenge later in the summer. She raised more than £1,800 for the Charity, which supported her brother and his family when her baby nephew Milo required hospital treatment.
Father’s Day was an opportunity for us to show our love and appreciation for all the amazing dads staying in our Houses. We treated them to delicious brunches and special gifts, and Bristol Market Barber in Bristol even came to give dads to a free trim!
July: Summer Smiles
Over the summer, we were hugely excited when we came together with McDonald’s and Coca-Cola to raise awareness and funds for the Charity. Ronald McDonald House Charities UK’s logo and key facts were displayed on 75 million cold cups in McDonald’s restaurants around the UK, resulting in an increase in awareness of the Charity.
In July we celebrated the well-deserved retirement of our Director of Strategic Partnerships, Anne Ward, after 26 years with the Charity. Anne’s departure was marked with a special unveiling of a plaque at our Manchester House, in honour of her incredible commitment and dedication to the Charity. Anne oversaw the development of many Houses and had direct input in making our Charity what it is today.
August: It’s… Coleen Rooney!
In August we were delighted to welcome Coleen Rooney to our Alder Hey House. Coleen joined forces with McDonald’s and Coca-Cola to help launch an important fundraising drive for our Charity. Three uniquely branded limited-edition reusable water bottles, created in partnership with Coca-Cola, were sold in restaurants throughout the summer, in a unique fundraising drive by McDonald’s.
Helping us to ‘Make a Clear Difference’ through the campaign was mum Kat, who spent a lot of time in our Ronald McDonald House Tooting when her baby girl Phoenix was born at just 25 weeks gestation. She and her family were a Day Pass family, meaning that while they didn’t stay with us overnight, they had access to all the facilities the House has to offer. A quote from Kat was printed on the reusable bottle box.
In August we also shared the wonderful music video of a song written by Joy and Patrick, parents to Nathan, who became part of our Charity’s family after being in Ronald McDonald House Manchester for over 900 days. They wrote the beautiful track ‘Home’, to celebrate 10 years of our Manchester House.
September: Adverts on TV, golf on the Algarve, and a HUGE announcement in Liverpool
Our 2023 brand awareness campaign ‘The Den’ launched on 11 September, delivering a strong message about the emotional impact and burden on children, who have a sick sibling in hospital. The campaign, led by a 40-second film showing a family making a den in our Cardiff House, was promoted on video on demand via ITVX, Channel4, Sky, YouTube, and 15-second and 10-second versions featured on our social media channels. Digital audio channels including Spotify and Amazon also ran the advert. In total, the campaign delivered 48 million impressions to people all over the UK.
As the weather began to feel more autumnal, some of our supporters headed to the sunnier climes of Portugal’s Algarve, for our annual Leisure Classic event. Participants enjoyed cultured days out, a gala dinner and, of course, a 27-hole golf course. An incredible £580,000 was raised for the Charity, thanks to our attendees, volunteers, and sponsors, including McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Galamast Contruction Group, Martin Brower UK and Ireland, Linney, tms, and Centurion Truck Rental.
Back in the UK, our Houses hosted Inclusivi-Tea events to coincide with National Inclusivity Week. The tea and coffee mornings focused on celebrating diversity and inclusion and connecting people within our Houses.
On 14 September, an exclusive VIP event was held at Ronald McDonald House Alder Hey, where we officially announced a multi-million-pound refurbishment of the House. The major improvement project will see more than £11 million invested into a substantial refurb to ensure the 30-year-old building, which requires major modernisation, can continue to meet the needs of families and Alder Hey Children’s Hospital for many years to come. As a charity, we’ve raised and designated £9 million towards the work, and an appeal has been launched to raise the final £2 million.
September was also the month when we announced our partnership with global fitness and wellbeing community app, TRUCONNECT. The brand has given free access to the app to families staying at all 14 of our Houses, extending to all Ronald McDonald House Charities UK employees. This access includes more 1,000 mental and physical health programmes, including NHS-approved wellbeing courses, and more than 400 tasty and nutritious recipes.
October: Happy Halloween and a heroic dad
There were more treats than tricks in our Houses for Halloween, when families were spoilt with monstruous movie nights, petrifying pumpkin painting, freaky fancy dress and ghoulish goody bags.
Also in October, dad Ryan Gosling, who stayed at our Bristol House when his newborn daughter Indie was being treated for hyperglycaemia, completed an epic run from his home in Barnstaple, Devon, to Bristol. Covering 240 miles over four days, Ryan’s heroic efforts resulted in him raising more than £10,000 for the Charity. His story was picked up by the BBC News website, reaching more than 588 million readers.
November: A glitzy Gala and a terrific tournament
On 3 November, a five-a-side football competition in Edinburgh raised more than £11,000 for the Charity. The annual tournament was organised by the family and Avison Young colleagues of chartered surveyor and keen footballer Duncan Wright, who died in 2020, after catching an infection during what was meant to be life-saving heart surgery, almost two years earlier. Extensive press coverage of the fundraiser included articles in the Daily Record and STV News.
On 17 November, we held our annual Birmingham Gala Dinner, with this year’s theme being ‘Hearts & Heroes’. It certainly lived up to its name; a heartfelt evening, starting with an amazing speech from our Chief Executive, Ella. A past family, Ilona and Ryan, told their story of their time in our Birmingham House when their little boy Kiah was in hospital. At the end of a fabulous night, everyone celebrated raising an incredible £270,000 to help keep families close in their time of need.
Our ‘Help Make a House a Home’ Christmas Appeal launched at the end of November, with a range of virtual gifts available to buy, from ‘The Gift of Togetherness’ for just £10, to ‘Christmas Lights for All’ for £720.
December: Christmas prep and pantos
At the beginning of December, we ‘Raised the Roof’ at our 14th annual Manchester Gala Dinner! It was a dazzling evening hosted by the incredible Bruce Turner and TV presenter Jenny Powell, which raised £254,000 to help keep families close in their time of need.
Every House took part in Decorate for December this year – a special, annual event which provides an opportunity for Houses to throw open their doors to local politicians and dignitaries, inviting them in to help decorate for the festive season. Twenty-five VIPs attended the events across the 14 Houses, including Lord Mayors, Members of Parliament, and councillors. Families, supporters, and volunteers were also invited to share in this joyful occasion, which was covered widely in regional press, including a live ITV West Country piece from our Bristol House.
The festive fun continued through the month, with children’s parties, visits from Santa Claus performers from several pantomimes across the UK came to bring some much-needed Christmas magic and sparkle to our families. The cast of M&S Bank Arena Liverpool’s Sleeping Beauty, who visited Alder Hey, included TV icon Katie Price, and legendary actress Lesley Joseph was among the performers from Jac and the Beanstalk, who paid a visit to our Cardiff House. Some venues gifted tickets to our families and held bucket collections at their performances. The visits also attracted media attention, with highlights including a live ITV Granada Reports piece from the Alder Hey House and mentions in OK! magazine.
Reflecting on the past year, we are proud of all our achievements and to have been able to accommodate 8,415 families across the UK for an average of 16 nights per stay. We saved families, on average, from travelling 68 miles to and from hospital each day to be with their child. None of this would have been possible without the dedication, generosity and hard work of our staff, volunteers, donors, fundraisers, regular givers, and corporate partners, not least our Mission Partner, McDonald’s. In 2024, our 35th anniversary year, we will launch our new long-term impact strategy, which will guide our vital work over the next three to five years. With your continued loyalty and support, we hope to make it another fantastic year.