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.
Being under lockdown impacts everyone—even superstars. ‘We’re all in this together’, many say, and although technically we are, not all of us have the same resources to deal with the situation. The best that most of us can do is to stay home, donate what we can afford to hospitals and maybe even volunteer if we’re eligible.
On the other hand, celebrities have the possibility to make a bigger difference because of their influence, but also, let’s be honest here, because of their well-endowed bank accounts. Are celebrities of any help in tackling the pandemic, and if so, which are offering more than a daily Instagram live stream?
Let me start off by saying that although I tend to ridicule live streams, their potential cannot be ignored. Chris Martin playing the piano and the guitar in his living room might not be of any help to me, but it could make someone else’s day—a fan or a kid. Same goes for John Legend, Pink and the other famous musicians who decided to do daily or weekly home gigs. Even The Backstreet Boys reunited to sing the legendary I Want It That Way, conference call-style, and it didn’t disappoint.
Musicians are not the only ones who saw an opportunity in filming themselves doing what they do best. Turner Prize-winning artist and absolute icon of mine Grayson Perry just announced that he will launch Grayson’s Art Club, a Channel 4 show that will teach people self-isolating how to create different kinds of artworks. Perry’s aim is to push viewers to make art that is related to their experience in isolation and possibly exhibit them once the coronavirus pandemic is over.
Grayson’s Art Club could not only teach you some drawing, painting and sculpting skills, but it could also allow you to get out of your head for an hour—something that, at the moment, has proved to be a complicated task for many.
If free classes and live streams are not enough efforts in your opinion, there’s probably another celebrity doing something with more impact. Many famous actors, singers and influencers are donating to different causes in order to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic. In the US, the lockdown means that kids who depend on the care and nutrition they receive during school hours will struggle to get meals. That’s nearly 22 million American children who rely on food support.
While in the UK the government left a few schools open specifically for those kids, the US didn’t. The US charity No Kid Hungry provides meals for children from low-income families across the US while schools are closed. Actresses Angelina Jolie and Kristen Bell both donated to No Kid Hungry and encouraged anyone with the means to donate as well. Bell’s children also decided to help and add whatever money they had in their piggy bank to her donation, resulting in $150,007.96 (£125,000).
Rihanna also helped through her nonprofit organisation—the Clara Lionel Foundation (CLF) has donated $5 million (£4.2 million) towards different organisations in the US and around the world. The money was split between food banks in America, protective equipment for frontline health workers, research to develop a vaccine and work to accelerate testing and care.
Gossip Girl actress Blake Lively and her husband Ryan Reynolds also donated to help provide food for older people and low-income families. In the UK, X-Men actor James McAvoy donated £275,000 to the Masks For NHS Heroes campaign, which provides protective equipment for staff. McAvoy also shared a video in which he thanked NHS staff members for caring for people even without the right equipment.
Justin Bieber pledged in February to donate 200,000 renminbis (RMB), which equals to £23,500, to the children’s charity Beijing Chunmiao Charity Foundation to help with the relief efforts.
The list goes on. The fact is that, yes, celebrities are donating. Some are helping in other ways—whether you consider live streams as a distinct aid is up to you.
As Man Repeller’s brand director Harling Gross wrote in An Anthropological Catalogue of Celebrity Quarantine Antics, “Over the past couple of weeks, I have been equal parts alarmed, delighted, confused, and intrigued by the antics of various celebrities.” Celebrities are, just like us, doing their best to help tackle this pandemic while also staying home and safe. Donations, piano serenades and solo karaoke sessions are each a helping hand in these uncertain times.
My only advice for you is to keep a positive mindset. As bitter and pessimistic as I can be, I’ve recently discovered a more hopeful side of me—with all the bad news floating around, it’s good to get some positivity. Celebrities could always donate more money and ‘do more’, but having this mentality can then be reversed on yourself when, in fact, there isn’t much more you can do. So relax, enjoy Sir Elton John’s ‘living room gig’ and stay home.