British Airways has ramped up its charitable efforts since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic

THE GURU • April 2021

How to run a charity partnership during a pandemic

Mary Brew
Mary Brew

Community investment manager

It’s been ten years since the launch of Flying Start, British Airways’ flagship charity that works to give disadvantaged young people the world over the best possible start in life. To celebrate the £500,000 raised by BA customers and colleagues since March 2020, we sit down with community investment manager Mary Brew to find out more about the airline’s charitable triumphs during Covid-19, and the high points from her 30 years with British Airways

How would you describe your role?
I oversee British Airways’ community investment programme. As a global airline, we are committed to having a positive impact in the communities we fly to. We try to support young people in the UK and around the world in getting the best possible start in life, through our partnerships with Comic Relief, the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) and other charitable organisations. We also support our colleagues through our Gold Standard Payroll Giving scheme and our Match Giving fund.

What’s your day to day like?
No two days are the same. On any one day we could be working with the DEC on a humanitarian appeal, planning fundraising activities to engage our customers and colleagues with Red Nose Day on 19 March 2021 (including our celebrity-packed virtual flight, celebrating more than £500,000 in donations by colleagues and customers since March 2020), supplying amenity kits and blankets to communities that need them, or setting up contactless trials on board our aircraft.

British Airways Red Nose Day 2021

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British Airways Red Nose Day 2021

It’s been ten years since Flying Start launched. What have been the highlights?
It’s been an incredible decade – through our customers and colleagues we’ve raised more than £25m. These donations have supported more than 824,000 people in the UK and some of the world’s poorest communities. Over the last two years, we have ring-fenced £2m for Early Child Development (ECD) projects in the UK, India, South Africa and Ghana.

We have also achieved five Guinness World Records through fundraisers over the years, including Heaviest Plane Pull, Highest Concert, Highest Comedy Gig, Highest Harlem Shake and Most Countries Cycled in 24 Hours. There are around 4,500 Flying Start champions across our network, fully engaged to fundraise for Comic Relief.

Could you talk about the programmes that have launched since the pandemic? 
British Airways launched its Covid-19 Community Response programme in March 2020. To date, more than 2,100 of our colleagues have volunteered at organisations nationwide, offering practical assistance for the British Red Cross, St John’s Ambulance and the NHS, and working at Covid-19 test centres and at food banks up and down the country. We have also supported more than 170 organisations, including NHS hospitals, care homes and community groups with items such as amenity kits, blankets, sleeper suits, toothbrushes, snacks and socks.

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What challenges has Covid-19 presented to your work?
It has been challenging, as many of the contributions raised for Comic Relief come from colleague fundraising and our customer donations on board. We have had to adapt our programme and are actively encouraging virtual fundraising and virtual project visits. These will form a big part of our programme in the year ahead. We are so thankful to our Flying Start champions across the business for their resilience and dedication during this time.

What has been your favourite project? 
I’d have to say working with Butterflies, a charity that works with India’s most vulnerable groups of children, who work or live on the streets. The project aims to help these children learn life skills, overcome social isolation, and improve their health and wellbeing. Flying Start funds have enabled Butterflies to establish Child Health and Sport Cooperatives, which have reached around 2,250 children over two years. I met some of the most inspiring young people there, and projects like this keep me motivated to do as much as we can for Comic Relief. 

inset-world record

Flying Start is no stranger to a Guinness World Record attempt

Could you single out one of the most rewarding moments of your career with BA?
There have been so many during the 30 years I’ve worked for the airline, but one in particular was the work we did for a music project in São Paulo, which supported a fantastic group of young musicians all living in challenging conditions, and who dreamt of playing on a stage. You could see how talented and passionate they were about their music. We arranged to fly the musicians to the UK, and arranged for them to play on a stage at London’s South Bank, followed by a special meeting at Downing Street. Two of the musicians in the group now manage an established Carnival arts organisation called Global Grooves, and the others have gone on to become successful musicians.  

Can you describe an instance where you’ve seen the direct impact of Comic Relief’s work?
Based in north London, Body & Soul was established in 1996 to support children, adolescents and families living with HIV – I have seen first-hand the work it does and it is outstanding. It uses a comprehensive, community-based and trauma-informed approach to address the life-threatening effects of childhood adversity in people of all ages. Comic Relief has been funding projects with Body & Soul for a number of years. The staff at the project are so committed to making real change to every one of its service users, and I am so proud that we were able to fund some of this great work.

What’s next for Flying Start?
We are so proud of our partnership with Comic Relief and we will continue to support projects across the UK and around the world, helping disadvantaged children and young people reach for a brighter future. We are also so thankful to our customers and colleagues who helped us achieve more than £25m and we hope to raise even more vital funds in the year ahead. For ideas on how to get involved in Red Nose Day events, visit Comic Relief.

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