Cancer charity is building up its caseload

Welcome site: Elaine Kerr checking on the progress of the extension

Welcome site: Elaine Kerr checking on the progress of the extension

At a time when many organisations are having to cut back, Chai Cancer Care is defying the recession by starting building work on a £1 million extension to its Hendon headquarters.

The expansion project will give Chai more space for its extensive range of services for Jewish cancer patients and their family and friends. It will further allow the charity to increase the number of people it sees each week from 350 to 450. With satellite services in Redbridge, south London and Manchester, Chai will be reaching a weekly audience of 500 when the extension opens next Pesach.

“Our services are driven by need,” said chief executive Elaine Kerr. “Over the last year, the number of new clients has doubled. People can come to us for as long as they need, which means some use us for years.

“We never turn anyone away. It takes enormous courage to walk through the door so we have to respond.”

Chai not only helps patients towards physical recovery but offers therapy for their families, financial and benefit advice and counselling. Services include physiotherapy, art classes, pilates and even laughter clinics. It serves Jews from the non-affiliated to the strictly Orthodox and would like to help more cancer sufferers from the Charedi community. Only four of its 42 staffers do not work one-on-one with clients.

Ms Kerr explained that the extension would enable Chai “to maintain the same high quality service and response times. The trustees faced a stark choice. We could have reduced the level of services but they were brave and decided to expand in the hope that the community will respond.”

The new building will incorporate four counselling rooms, a large family area, a gym and a conservatory equipped with internet access and webcam. With no statutory funding for its work, Chai relies on private donations to maintain services and to finance the extension.

It costs £5,000 to provide intensive support for a terminal care patient and their family and £1,000 for acupuncture to relieve the side effects of chemotherapy, Ms Kerr reported. Although most clients make a contribution towards counselling and treatment, the sums are nominal.

“The money we are given goes straight into client services. We are extremely efficient. This year, like all charities, we have seen our donations go down. But we’re watching the pennies and being very careful.”

Chai’s policy has been to ensure that a year’s worth of running costs, around £1.2 million, are kept in reserve. This is the first year it has had to dip into the fall-back funding.

“We have not, as yet, had to cut into services but we are very concerned this may happen,” Ms Kerr said. “However tough it gets out there, cancer doesn’t go away. It’s not something you can put on hold until better financial times. There are few people who haven’t been affected by it in some way.”

How Chai helped my recovery

Satisfied client: Carol Slesser

Satisfied client: Carol Slesser

Carol Slesser, a confidence coach from Cricklewood, is among those who have benefited from Chai’s services.

She was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, a form of uterus cancer, in October 2008. “Nobody in my family had had cancer so it was a big shock,” she recalled.

“I had a seven-hour operation in November and when I came out of hospital I couldn’t do anything – I could barely move or climb the stairs. Having cancer made me lose my confidence and my identity. Everyone treated and spoke to me differently, which was very difficult.”

Ms Slesser was recommended to Chai by a friend and said it had been a huge help. “They do so much more than people realise.

“I was visited at my home and given financial advice that I would never have known. I had massage and reflexology there too.

“Someone would pick me up from home and take me to and from my chemotherapy sessions, which was wonderful. I would have eight-hour sessions and not having a family made it very difficult, but someone from Chai would be there waiting for me.

“I finished my treatment in June. I still have reflexology at Chai and am now reinventing myself as a new person.”

    Last updated: 9:02am, August 17 2009