Alex Davis reports on how Insurance Charities is set to raise its profile as a major charity for all kinds of emergencies.

Joshua was born with myotubular myopathy. The chances are that you’ve never heard of it. Exceedingly rare, it causes extreme muscular dystrophy. Sufferers are wheelchair-bound and cannot even breathe unaided – Joshua himself is reliant on a ventilator for 24 hours a day. He spent the first two years of his life at the hospital where he was born. Now, six years on and Joshua is able to live at home with his parents and attend the local primary school.

Joshua was able to do these things because of help from the Insurance Charities, a body that provides grants and assistance for those working in insurance who face personal difficulty. It is a registered charity with five paid staff and a board of trustees chosen from across the industry.

It has funds in excess of £25m and handed out grants last year totalling £1.5m. So why have you never heard of it? The charity acknowledges that it has kept a low public profile – but, with a new marketing strategy in place, it is ready to step into the limelight.

Carol, Joshua’s mother, heard about the Insurance Charities through her boss at RSA. “We needed to have our house adapted so that Joshua could come home. We couldn’t afford everything ourselves, so I approached my boss and he directed me to the charity. I knew nothing about it before that,” she says.

“They’ve really been my knights in shining armour. Joshua couldn’t come home until we had that money. Just last year we were given help to get a power chair that gives him far more mobility, because you don’t get any help from the government for these kinds of requirements.”

Ken Davidson, former CII chairman and current president of the Insurance Charities, believes the body has an important role to play for people like Joshua and his family. “I’m a great believer in putting something back into an industry that has been very good to me. It’s hands-on and you can actually see that we’re doing some good,” he says.

But Jackie Runeckles, the charity’s welfare adviser, acknowledges that the charity is little known. “It’s a recognised on-going battle. Our local representatives work very hard, but it just seems to slip through the net. Restricted to a fairly narrow countrywide base, we’re not a high profile charity,” she says.

“I am a great believer in putting something back into an industry that has been very good to me. It is hands-on and you can actually see that we are doing some good.

Ken Davidson, Insurance Charities

That is about to change. Davidson says: “We are trying to be much more pro-active and make ourselves far more accessible to potential beneficiaries. We are currently looking to appoint a marketing manager.

“We get quite a lot of help from local institutes, and we raise cash and our profile through fundraising functions and dinners. I spoke at the Dublin Charities lunch four weeks ago and that raised about €24,000 (£19,300). We also had a sponsored walk last year, which was done in partnership with Towergate, which involved more than 200 participants. We’ve got another this year on 20 June, and we’re hoping for far more people taking part.”

There’s one tough question Davidson faces: obviously the charity does a lot of good, but with its relatively low profile, can it be justified? Why not divert the money to a higher profile charity that people within the industry are guaranteed to know about, like Age Concern or Sue Ryder Care?

Davidson’s response is conclusive: “We’re a universal charity. We will deal with cases that other charities can’t. We’re Age Concern and children’s charities rolled into one. And we don’t just throw money at the situation. Part of our job is always to try to guide people. What we are looking for are solutions.

“It’s not just those in difficulty. We deal with a wide range of needs. We have about 900 beneficiaries and when people do find us, they’re surprised at how flexible and helpful we are. We also help gifted children whose families perhaps cannot afford the costs of education. In the past we’ve sponsored children to go to the Royal Ballet School, or to football school.”

With its expertise and plenty of funding opportunities from the cash rich industry, the Insurance Charities is well placed to help those members of the market who are in need. And now it’s ready to shout about it.