A Year I Won’t Forget
Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.
~ Maya Angelou
How many times have I thought and read, that 2020 has been a year like no other? It’s been a recurring theme. The upending of plans, endless challenges, restrictions, the omnipresent pandemic news cycle. A topic I’ve always enjoyed in fiction and film but know now is much less exciting as a fact.
On a personal level, the year has been inconvenient, not terrible. We live a quiet, relatively isolated life in normal times, so adjusting to confinement in France has been easier than if we’d still been living our previous life in the UK. That’s not to say we’re untouched by worry and concerns for ourselves and others. Michel and family members are high risk, friends have lost parents, others have been seriously unwell. Not having visitors has made me aware of how valuable friendship is, and even more so when it can only be long distance. But, daily life for us is largely free of strife and in this we know we’re fortunate, and thankful.
It has meant that I’ve been able to devote energy and time to taking the charity I founded a year ago, Schnauzerfest, through its first year as a registered charity. I always knew it would require a serious commitment in time and effort but add a pandemic to the work and it’s certainly stretched me to my limits on occasion.
I am not a natural bureaucrat or administrator. I don’t enjoy it and have no training. I make up much of what I do as I go along. I enjoy creative projects, not restrictive processes and definitely dislike form filling. (The irony of moving to a country which buries itself in forms for the sake of it isn’t lost on me). I have to enjoy how I spend my working time otherwise I can’t sustain the effort. I have to care about something in order to do it. Until I found my professional niche in my late twenties I jumped around from job to job, not able to knuckle down. I had no intention of spending my life ticking away hours every day doing something I disliked.
Climbing the mountain of bureaucracy that accompanies charities is an effort not to be underestimated. More or less the same regulatory requirements apply whether a charity is large and staffed, or small and volunteer as Schnauzerfest is. Regulations are there for good reasons which I appreciate and value; but demands first have to be understood before they can be met, and while important, I still dislike having to learn about them.
I thought I was fairly prepared. I’d taken a long time to decide to go the charity route partly because I’d investigated in depth what it would entail. Changes I knew it would bring were daunting but I was excited by the positives. I knew that Schnauzerfest has great supporters and a tiny but dedicated, trusted team to work with me on the administration. It would all work out I thought as we went through the first year. There’d be no hurry to change the core of a well proven fundraising effort. We had solid foundations on which to build the charity over time. Ideas for gradually expanding Schnauzerfest’s potential for good would come in over time.
But my preparation didn’t include doing it for the first time just as a pandemic hit. This not only wiped out all plans we had for new things, it shattered the foundation of our fundraising model – the Schnauzerfest walks. As a charity we have to raise funds, not only because we’re legally obliged to, but so we can do the work we are set up for. It wasn’t just the Schnauzerfest walks at risk, the virus directly touched the team and as an entirely volunteer run charity, work and life demands on everyone naturally took priority.
The workload I’d anticipated, perhaps and with hindsight naively, swiftly became much more, at times all consuming, to the detriment of my creative life. I lost any semblance of writing routine, which created frustration. Bits and pieces were the best I could do for much of the year. Which, somewhat surprisingly, did build into a cohesive project and a new book is currently with the publisher and will be out in the first half of 2021. More on that in a future blog.
There have been times this year – a lot if I’m honest – where I have enjoyed very little of how my time has been spent, doing what’s needed to be done. It’s been hard and worrying and I know I’m not unique in ending a year marked by these themes.
Thankfully, the obsessive part of me, the bit that’s driven by an unflinching commitment to do what I can to honour Susie-Belle’s life and memory, has pulled me out of any wallowing moments. I reminded myself why becoming a charity was a good idea in the first place. When I got stuck worrying how one based on social walks could succceed when being sociable risks people’s lives, creativity and dedication from the Schnauzerfest team pulled things together. On we got with new ideas, trying things out, bringing in funds from generous, caring supporters who didn’t abandon us as our walks became impossible to hope for. The vision stayed clear. Buoyed by the best supporters and team a charity could ask for.
Amid the relentless swirl of gloom and bad news, good things have been happening for dogs helped by Schnauzerfest – well over 20 this year alone. As a grant giving charity which began a year ago with an empty bank account, this has only been possible because big-hearted supporters have donated. We have raised more this year, one where the walks could not happen, than we have ever done. That is testament to the kindness and generosity of many.
It’s been a year I won’t forget, few of us will. Many challenges are coming in animal welfare, some are begining to hit now. It’s certain that some rescues won’t survive, and those that do will have huge amounts of work on their hands in 2021.
Schnauzerfest this year has established relationships with rescues and individuals working unbelievably hard in the toughest of circumstances. I’ve learned things about the sector which are enlightening and inspiring plus a few I’d rather not have been faced with. Everything learnt along the way helps Schnauzerfest become the best it can be for the dogs which is what matters most to me at the end of each day. And the end of this year I’m glad to leave behind.