20 Oct 2016

Charity focus: We talk to Special Effect about their work and using BT MyDonate

Special Effect

We've been chatting to Mark Saville at Special Effect the gaming charity who aim to give people with severe disabilities a new lease of life through video gaming.

Tell us a bit about the work you do at Special Effect…
We try to give people with disabilities a better quality of life, using video games. There’s so much social inclusion, self-esteem, escapism and rehabilitation in video games. We hope to help people with physical disabilities access all of that.

How did you come up with the idea?
I used to work at a charity (with our CEO Dr Mick Donegan) which helped children with severe communication problems. We were helping them in an educational setting – to speak, write and learn. But at the end of those sessions, parents would say to us ‘well that’s great, but what does my child do in the evenings? What do they do at the weekends?’. And these are kids who can’t go outside and play real games. So it became obvious to us that video games would be the ideal platform to help kids integrate and socialise with their friends.

What are the benefits of gaming for people with disabilities?
There are all sorts of benefits, but the biggest I would say is quality of life. We once helped a lad who had cerebral palsy. His friends would come round to his house and because he couldn’t join in, they used to go outside and play with his brother, leaving him inside watching. So we gave him a set up that would allow him to play and just be one of the gang. And that’s also about self-esteem, it’s getting people into groups of friends they otherwise wouldn’t be in. There’s people who have said to us “thank you for giving me my life back” – it’s so reassuring when we hear that.

What sort of age group do you target?
Any age whatsoever. We’ve seen children as young as 3 and people in their 60s and 70s as well. There are lots of older people with difficulties who want to play with their nephews and nieces, and it’s great to be able to help them as well.

How do you fund your work?
We don’t have any statutory funding at all, so we’re entirely reliant on the good will of people around us to raise money. A fair proportion comes from the gaming community, but we’ll also work closely with the local community. One particular fundraiser we do every February is a video gaming weekend called ‘Game Blast’ –where people around the country play games for 24 hours to raise money. We’ve had people from across the whole world joining in.

As well as fundraising are there other ways supporters can help/support?
Just putting the word out there about what we do. Because the more people we can reach, the more people we can help. We’re still relatively small – although we cover the whole of the UK, there’s about 15 of us here. And amount of requests for help we’re getting is rising all the time, so the need for fundraising is always there.

Is there anyone you’ve helped that really sticks in your mind?
We helped a young man called Tom Clark to play Fifa. He had muscular dystrophy and was in his early twenties. A wonderful, wonderful guy – and he was such a personality, every time we went to see him we came away with a big smile. And, unfortunately, he passed away last week. And the impact on all of the staff here was incredible. It’s then that you realise that the people we’re helping become part of our family really, and when we lose one there’s a genuine sense of loss.

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a charity?
It’s fairly obvious to say funding, but that would be the big one. Because we’re providing a very time intensive and specialist service, and the technology is pretty expensive. Then there’s the amount of new games and consoles that are coming out, we have to buy those and adapt them. So if you think about all of that, and then the fact that we’re doing it for nothing – it’s a crazy business model.

Why did you choose MyDonate?
We first heard about MyDonate when our Vice President Kate Russell made us aware, and subsequently raised over £2,000 with a gaming stream for the game Elite Dangerous. The changes in the way the platform looks and the obvious costs benefits were enough to convince us to encourage more people to use it – and make it the official platform for the 2016 Twin Town challenge event!

How has your MyDonate experience been so far?
Our main use for the platform has been for the Twin Town challenge that has raised £275K so far. We have also used it for our Monster Race, 10K races and the London marathon. The 0% commission is a big draw for us and for donors.

Would you recommend MyDonate to other charities?
We already have! We’re part of a charities group in Oxford, and at a meeting earlier this year, we invited David Wiggins from BT MyDonate to talk – and gave our positive experience so far. The customer support has also been good, and Dave’s been outstanding.

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