Charity in memory of Jonny facing possible closure

Jonny Kennedy.
Jonny Kennedy.

A CHARITY trustee who has tirelessly raised money in the memory of a popular north east man who died of a painful skin condition, is devastated as the charity is on the brink of ruin.

Jonny Kennedy North East, which now has just two charity shops left, both in Whitley Bay, is on its last legs unless sponsors come forward with financial help.

Epidermolysis bullosa sufferer Jonny, of Alnwick, touched millions of people when the last four months of his life was made into a television documentary called The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off in 2004.

Trustee Eric Duffield was one of them and after raising more than £40,000 for a national charity in two years, he set up his own the with the help of Jonny’s mum Edna.

The pair wanted to ensure more of the money raised could help actual sufferers.

Both put in thousands of pounds of their own money and more recently, Eric, who doesn’t draw a wage has single-handedly run the charity.

But the credit crunch has meant less and less financial contributions coming in and having already had to close the shop in Fenham, the two shops in Park Avenue look doomed.

The Whitley Bay shops, which employ three part-time staff, each working 16 hours per week on minimum wage also have five volunteers.

Eric said: “The donations are coming in, that’s not the problem, but we need to find some companies to sponsor the shop.

“It’s paying for the overheads like the rent and rates and the staff’s wages.

“I have had to give staff formal notice, that if things don’t improve in the next two to three months, we’ve got to consider closing it down.

“I’ve had to pay the rent on one of the shops out of my own personal bank account for the past two or three months and I can’t afford to continue doing that.

“So whatever help businesses can give us on the financial side, we would be extremely grateful.

“I know charities are suffering as well as everybody else. But we are a small charity.

“The bigger national charities can afford to close a shop down and write that off. For us, without the shop there is no charity.

“There is just more going out than what’s coming in. The three staff we have are the ones unfortunately who have to suffer.

“One lady was offering to surrender her wages for the next two or three months – they are only on minimum wage, it’s only £95 a week.

“Another was prepared to leave to get another job to save the charity. But I don’t want to push anyone out, it’s hard enough as it is financially at the moment.”

Jonny’s mum, Edna Kennedy, who lives in Tynedale, said: “The shops have got the stock but we just don’t have the same number of people coming in.

“We still have rent, rates and staffing to pay for.

“Unfortunately, it’s getting to the stage where our overhead costs are nearly more than what we are getting in.

“Jonny is still in people’s minds and this charity is his legacy, so we urgently need support to keep it going.

“It’s a very difficult time.”

Eric added: “I’m doing it for people like Jonny, the sufferers who are around and living with the condition at the moment.

“Because of all the hard work we have put into it, it would feel incredibly upsetting if we were to close – this is Jonny’s legacy after all – and I feel like we can’t go down that road because of the other suffers out there.”

To help, contact Eric on 07738 076081 or e-mail ericduffield@hotmail.co.uk. The Whitley Bay shops can also be contacted on (0191) 253 5434.