The COVID-19 pandemic presented an emergency unlike any other we’ve faced. At the start of the pandemic, the impact was far-reaching and immediate – not only in health care settings, but in areas like domestic violence, food provision and mental health support. In March 2020, the Health Foundation recognised that a rapid response was needed, and one that recognised the immediate concerns of those that were disproportionately affected – the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in our society. 

Departing from our usual focus on longer term funding programmes, we set up a fund for the charities and community groups providing immediate support to those worst affected. To maximise our impact, we accepted applications from UK-wide bodies with a clear reach into front-line support across the UK. This allowed us to ensure that funding reached the communities that needed it most, while operating within our current resources for managing applications. 

In 2020, we awarded £2.5m in charitable donations and in 2021 we donated a further £2.2m. Some of our first donations were to The Trussell Trust, Care Workers’ Charity and Beat Eating Disorders.  

Four of the largest donations were to Comic Relief, BBC Children in Need, National Emergencies Trust, and UNICEF. Here, we talk a little about what those four charities have been doing with the funds. 

Comic Relief 

Our £1m donation has so far helped support 12 organisations across two funds, with more set to benefit this year when a third fund begins making grants.  

The grants have supported community-based organisations working with marginalised groups most affected by the pandemic. 

The organisations already receiving support have included three concentrating on work relating to women and family services, as part of Changemakers - Women and Family Grants, and nine tackling violence against women and girls under the Supporting and Sustaining Specialism programme. 

Midaye Somali Development Network, for example, is part of the Changemakers programme. They have received over £60k from the Health Foundation charitable donation, providing 6 months of funding and support for their project, which aims to transform the mental health of migrant women. They provide holistic and peer support, as well as learning and advocacy to expand the support available to migrant women.  

Emma Stevenson, Comic Relief's Head of Funding Partnerships, said:

‘Comic Relief has been thrilled to partner with the Health Foundation and we are really grateful for the £1m donation, which has meant that front-line organisations at the heart of communities most impacted by the pandemic can achieve life-changing impact. It’s important now, more than ever, that funders work together and listen to the needs and aspirations of local charities and communities, in order to leverage funding to where it's most needed.’ 

BBC Children in Need 

Our £1m donation to BBC Children in Need has been used to support 56 different projects spread right across the UK. The majority of the grants have gone to youth services working to build positive relationships, strong self-belief and emotional wellbeing. Targeted needs have included learning disabilities, mental health, people from minority ethnic communities, and young carers. 

For instance, £33.5k for Womenzone Community Centre is helping to support young people living in poverty and at risk of mental health issues in East Bradford, by offering mental health workshops, physical activities, careers advice and trips. And £34k is helping deliver one-to-one counselling and family therapy to young people in Doncaster who have experienced sexual violence. Meanwhile, over £38k granted to London-based Every Parent & Child is helping them deliver counselling and drop-in sessions for children and young people with learning disabilities, to help increase self-esteem, and develop coping mechanisms and social skills. 

National Emergencies Trust 

Our £1.5m donation to the National Emergencies Trust gave a boost to their Coronavirus Appeal, which raised almost £100m in total, and reached an estimated 13 million people across the UK. This meant funds could be quickly distributed to thousands of grassroots charities responding to the impact of the crisis, from food shortages, through to mental health needs. Via Community Foundations, grants were made to voluntary and community sector organisations across the UK, and national charity partners received additional funding to provide tailored support for specific communities and causes with unmet needs. 

One such grassroots organisation helped by the appeal, was The Charter House Resource Centre in Burnley, which supports individuals with learning disabilities, physical disabilities or sensory needs, as well as their families and carers. Their team visits homes to carry out welfare checks, deliver cooked meals and supply packed lunches to children who would otherwise go without. The funding enabled the Centre to drastically expand its services in line with the surge in need, increasing the number of meals it prepared and delivered from 60 to almost 700 per week. 

Another example includes Cymru Creations in South Wales. Funding enabled them to support older people who were shielding, with shopping, collecting and delivering medicine, and to provide a DVD exchange service. The team of volunteers made up to 30 trips a day for those unable to leave their homes. 

Mhairi Sharp, National Emergencies Trust Chief Executive said:

‘We are incredibly thankful to the Health Foundation for its generous support. It enabled grassroots groups and national charities across the UK to bolster their capacity and evolve their services quickly as the needs of their communities changed. It meant those feeling lonely were offered mental health support from a safe social distance, those isolating could receive vital deliveries of food and essentials, and many thousands of children could be connected to their friends and their schoolwork. It has also enabled thousands of small charities to digitise their operations, leaving a positive legacy of more inclusive and accessible services for the future.’ 


In recognition that the effort to tackle the spread of COVID-19 needed to be worldwide, we also donated funds to one charity carrying out vital work in low- and middle-income countries across the world. Our £200k donation to UNICEF has helped support their essential work around COVID-19 testing, treatments and vaccines. So far, this has contributed to them delivering 1.48 billion vaccines to 145 different countries and territories, addressing urgent oxygen needs in 12 countries, supplying 12.6 million days’ worth of personal protective equipment to front-line workers, and engaging communities to build vaccine confidence in 111 countries.  

Just one example of the effort to raise worldwide vaccination rates, is a project to improve logistics in Bangladesh, to help raise coverage from less than half of the population being fully vaccinated, to a target of 70%. Another focuses on vaccine misinformation, with more than 600 volunteers in Kyrgyzstan being recruited to conduct door-to-door visits to households, to explain the benefits of vaccination to those who are hesitant. 

Supporting front-line health care work, 800,000 units of face masks and 12,500 isolation gowns have been delivered to health facilities across Ukraine. And, more than 16 countries are preparing to receive their orders of UNICEF’s innovative and life-saving emergency solution, the Oxygen Plant-in-a-Box, a device that can produce enough oxygen to treat up to 50 COVID-19 patients, or 100 children with severe pneumonia. 


This content originally featured in our email newsletter, which explores perspectives and expert opinion on a different health or health care topic each month.

Sign up to our newsletter

Receive the latest news and updates from the Health Foundation

Also in this newsletter

Newsletter blog

There may be trouble ahead... and here’s a plan

25 August 2022
Newsletter blog

Jennifer Dixon sets out how the Health Foundation is responding to the prospect of trouble ahead...

Newsletter feature

Becoming a more responsible investor

25 August 2022
Newsletter feature

Our investment team talk about the huge job of managing the Foundation's investments and plans to...

Newsletter feature

Funding, news and events from August 2022 

25 August 2022
Newsletter feature

The latest funding, news and events from the Health Foundation. 

Corporate publication

2021 annual report and financial statements

July 2022
Corporate publication

Our annual report presents the main highlights from our work in 2021, shares our financial...


Quantifying health inequalities in England


Quantifying health inequalities is vital to better focus policies designed to address them. This...

You might also like...


A tale of two hospitals: the pandemic and its aftermath in Berlin and London – with Professor Heyo Kroemer and Professor Tim Orchard

28 July 2022

Episode 22. Professor Heyo Kroemer of the Charité in Berlin and Professor Tim Orchard of Imperial...


What can the COVID-19 response tell us about public health interventions and inequalities? Three reflections from Newham


Jason Strelitz, DPH for Newham, shares some important lessons from the experience of managing public...


Health Services Research UK Conference 2022


The Health Foundation is supporting HSR UK’s 15th annual conference on 5–7 July 2022, contributing...

Kjell-bubble-diagramArtboard 101 copy

Get social

Follow us on Twitter
Kjell-bubble-diagramArtboard 101

Work with us

We look for talented and passionate individuals as everyone at the Health Foundation has an important role to play.

View current vacancies
Artboard 101 copy 2

The Q community

Q is an initiative connecting people with improvement expertise across the UK.

Find out more