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Much to be proud of after the most difficult year by Sandra Currie

01 November 2021

When the UK went into the first Covid-19 lockdown, we had been preparing to interview applicants for research fellowships. We cancelled the interviews immediately, hoping it would be a short postponement.  

But as the impact of the pandemic developed over the coming weeks, it became clear we wouldn’t be able to commit to new fellowships, or any new research funding, for some time. To stabilise the charity in the face of a 50% drop in income, we had to cancel new grant rounds, furlough many of our staff, and make some redundancies.  

For me, the most painful thing was hearing how profoundly kidney patients were being affected by the crisis, without being able to offer hope by funding lots of new research. Those needing hospital dialysis had to put themselves at risk of Covid-19 to have treatment. Every time a transplant patient took their life-saving immunosuppressants, they were also increasing their chances of infection. 

Sandra Currie
Sandra Currie, chief executive of Kidney Research UK

The situation underlined just how tough kidney disease is. These treatments – the best we have – carry such a heavy burden of stress, inconvenience and health risks. The added dangers of Covid-19 underlined the urgency to make treatments kinder and more effective. This is a firm pledge in our new strategy to 2030, and we have begun by launching a campaign to raise £3 million for research to transform treatments. 

Of course, we can’t do this – or achieve our vision – alone. Working in partnership, and mobilising investment and research elsewhere, is essential. One of the positives to have come out of the crisis has been the closer working relationships we’ve forged with other organisations in the kidney community. This includes the new partnership we launched with The PKD Charity, which will increase research in the priority areas relevant to polycystic kidney disease. 

We’ve also become more efficient and agile as a charity. During the crisis, we were asked to support Kidney Beam, a new online platform offering mental and physical support to patients to help gain evidence of how effective it was. We were also approached to assist a study to help protect kidney patients from Covid. The speed of our response showed us how we can streamline our research funding operations without compromising our standards – and we have taken our learnings and put lasting changes in place. 

Digital fundraising has been another area of development that was accelerated by the pandemic, but that we’ll continue by choice. Our amazing supporters have shown incredible loyalty, generosity and flexibility in ways to raise funds amid the crisis, and that meant we could re-start our research grants programme before the year end. Not as much as planned, but more than we feared, including inviting back for interview some of the researchers we’d had to turn away in March 2020. 

2021 is our 60th anniversary. While it comes in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic, and all the resulting challenges, it also comes at a time when we can be proud of our resilience, determination and adaptability. We’ve come back stronger in many ways, and more committed than ever to a day when everyone lives free from kidney disease. 

The impact we've made in 2020-21

Take a look at our annual report to find out more about the impact we've been able to make over the last year.

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