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As Richard Branson offers his island to secure a Virgin bailout, we look at the Run for Heroes challenge

By Bianca Borissova

Apr 21, 2020

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The Run for Heroes challenge has been popping up on everyone’s Instagram stories by now. The way it works is that you get nominated by a friend to run 5 kilometres, you then donate £5 and nominate 5 more friends to do this too by tagging them on your own Instagram story.

The purpose here is to raise funds in order to help our NHS workers fight COVID-19. So far, the campaign has managed to raise over £4.2 million (over £4.3 million if you include Gift Aid). But Run for Heroes has also been heavily criticised. So what exactly is making people so angry and is Sir Richard Branson part of it?

The campaign’s crowdfunding is processed via Virgin Money Giving, which takes a 2 per cent platform fee as well as a 2.5 per cent processing fee for each donation. So far, this equates to an estimate of over £188k out of the funds collected. While it is worth noting that most crowdfunding platforms take a fee as for many of them it is their only way of paying people’s salaries, Virgin Money Giving is part of Virgin Money UK, a company initially founded by Sir Richard Branson, whose reported net worth is $4.4 billion.

Over the years, both Branson and Virgin Group Ltd. have received a significant amount of criticism, and rightfully so. For instance, he and his family hold a £2.7 billion stake in Virgin Group Holdings Ltd, tax-free, as the company is registered in the British Virgin Islands, a tax haven. Since the start of the pandemic, Branson asked Virgin Atlantic airline staff to take eight weeks of unpaid leave.

He was then criticised for appealing for taxpayer aid rather than drawing on his huge wealth and for asking the UK government for a bailout for his airline. Sir Richard Branson went on to pledge his luxury island resort as collateral.

Most importantly, in 2017, Virgin Care sued the NHS after it lost out on an £82 million contract to provide child care across the country, causing the NHS to pay out £328k. This makes Virgin’s constant pursuit in supporting NHS charities seem almost ironic, if not repentant.

What many people seem to be getting wrong, however, is that Branson is not actually directly connected to the platform. Virgin Money was bought by CYBG plc in 2018, no longer making Branson the owner—but still a shareholder of 13 per cent. Virgin Money Giving also explains that while being part of Virgin Money, it is a not for profit organisation. 

Screen Shot spoke to a spokesperson who explained that “Virgin Money Giving doesn’t ever make a profit on donations. The small fee covers the cost of running the service and there’s a processing fee charged by card providers. Recognizing the fantastic work of our NHS heroes in this extraordinary time, Virgin Money CEO David Duffy has donated a portion of his salary to enable us to remove our platform fee for the NHS campaign.”

But Run for Heroes was not founded by Virgin or any of its groups, it was founded by Olivia Strong, a woman who was simply looking for positive ways to help support the NHS. When asked why the campaign selected Virgin Money Giving as its crowdfunding platform, a spokesperson told Screen Shot that the decision was based on the fact that the platform had been supporting various NHS charities already and because the company was not for profit.

The collected money is then split among different hospital charities who have their own appeals—from sleep pods and overnight wash kits to tea, coffee and biscuits for frontline staff—every little helps. Run for Heroes is a heartwarming idea that pushed many people to come together in order to donate and help as much as they could. But it should not be up to Strong to find a way to support our NHS in these times, nor for regular people to fund it.

It is disheartening to watch how badly our governments are dealing with this situation, but we should not allow the pandemic to become an excuse for them avoiding accountability. The NHS is not a charity, and UK citizens pay taxes so that it can exist—yet, the NHS has been underfunded and undermined by the conservative party for years.

With a global recession happening and people losing their jobs, many are not in a position to donate. For some, the challenge can be seen as something pushed upon them. After all, if tagged, no one wants to be judged as the person who won’t help the NHS. But it is important to remember that if you can’t or don’t want to participate in this challenge, that is okay.

If you are in a position to donate, do your research prior and try to donate directly to your local hospitals. You can also help in other ways and volunteer to make PPE for hospitals. Whatever you decide to do, remember to stay safe and be kind to yourself and others, because now is not the time to tear something else apart. Now is the time to stick together—although not literally.