A NEW state-of-the-art home and high-profile support from an Olympic hero has paved the way for an upsurge of interest in a local charity whose reach extends around the world.
Such has been the impression made by The Encephalitis Society in the past several months that it has welcomed more visitors to its new headquarters on Castlegate, Malton, this year than in the previous five.
Add in a rebranded website which is attracting more and more traffic and the support of its patrons - Olympic medal-winning swimmer Rebecca Adlington and former Emmerdale actor Mathew Bose - and the future is bright for the charity which supports people of all ages and their families who are affected by the debilitating condition, an inflammation of the brain usually caused by infection or auto-immune disease.
And in further good news, The Encephalitis Society will be taking centre stage at the Pride of Malton and Norton Awards next month where it has been chosen as the Charity of the Year.
But a long journey still lies ahead, says chief executive Ava Easton, who is determined to provide the same opportunities that are available to sufferers and their families in Great Britain to people across the world.
“What we are trying to achieve in the long term is creating a bigger society so we can reach out to more people that have been affected by Encephalitis and their families, including those who have been bereaved,” she said.
“We have been described on more than one occasion as a light in a very dark place and colleagues in the charitable field feel we are an organisation that punches above its weight. We do an awful lot with very little money. We have more ideas than we have cash. I said to the team what can we do in 2013 and they came up with some amazing ideas. Now I have to find the money to put them into action.”
Services provided by The Encephalitis Society this year included three Brain Science workshops, funding research, meetings and weekend retreats for sufferers and their families as well as day-to-day support services, both over the telephone and in person.
The next major date on the calendar is its annual general meeting in London this November followed that same day by a celebration evening focusing on the Arts and Brain Injury with the highlight set to be announcing the winners of the Expressions of Encephalitis competition.
Members were invited to enter one of three categories and submit either a Piece of Art, Photograph or Piece of Narrative with the winners announced by high-profile supporters on the night. The aim behind the competition is to highlight how the creative arts can help with the rehabilitation of anyone who has suffered Encephalitis.
But to reward the winners it needs prizes and has issued an appeal for donations of money or a prize to entrants in the photography and art projects with anyone interested asked to contact the charity at its Malton base.
With their previously cramped offices on Saville Street now a fast fading memory, the new headquarters, which officially opened in March, gives the charity more scope for the services it provides as well as a source of income for anyone who decides to rent its board room which boasts state of the art audio, visual and I.T. equipment, break-out area and refreshments facilities.
It has marked a turning point for the charity and its 10-strong team, said Ava.
“It has been amazing,” she said. “Staff productivity has gone up because everyone feels like they have their own space. We have a private room where they have the time and space to deal with any problems or trauma on the line.
“If we have people literally turning up off the street, either families in distress or the bereaved, we can bring them in, sit them down. They can sit quietly and do what they want in private and we can support them in that.”
Running the centre is another cost that the charity struggles with and has since launched a Bricks and Mortar appeal to help it pay its day-to-day bills.
Ava said: “It gives people the opportunity to make small regular donations to us. We use that money really to keep our four walls and roof going, and to pay the gas and so on. If the people of Ryedale want to support a charity that they can be proud of, that would be one way to support us.”
They are confident of support at the Pride of Malton and Norton Awards next month where a swimsuit donated by Rebecca Adlington, who won two bronze medals at London 2012 to go with her gold medals from the Beijing Olympics, will be auctioned off for The Encephalitis Society.
The nomination as Charity of the Year at the high-profile event has helped put a spring in the step of the staff and its local supporters.
Ava said: “I think everybody is generally much happier and I think we feel more part of the community - people know about where we are and what we do. It’s so nice to be embraced by the Malton and Norton Pride Awards and that’s why we have donated the signed swimming gear from Becky.”
She added: “We are not a sexy cause. There is nothing attractive about brain injuries and infections. We are passionate about what we do and we are really pleased that the local community is taking us on board and to their hearts. I think its sending a message out that people in Malton and Norton are not afraid of disability and some of the more difficult and challenging types of disability that are out there.
“Here in Malton, a small acorn is growing into a large oak tree. We are going to stay in North Yorkshire and I think it’s something for people in Ryedale and Yorkshire to be proud of.”