Each month, we highlight a charity that is working to make our communities better. This month, we talked to the Butterfly Wishes Network, a not-for-profit organisation of UK-based photographers who donate their time and services to families of children with life-shortening illnesses. We asked BWN about their work.
Tell us about Butterfly Wishes.
We founded in April 2013, so nearly four years ago. A group of photographers had been talking for a while of starting something like this after having been inspired by the Tiny Sparrow Foundation in America, which offers pictures of hope to families of children that are life-limited. It was founded on a wing and a prayer—we had no idea whether anyone would come on board—and we’re thrilled to now have over 330 photographers in the UK and Ireland. In 2015 we were delighted to accept a Point of Light Award from 10 Downing Street.
Our organisation only works because of all the photographers that have signed up with us. There is something so moving about this amazing network of photographers who freely give their talent and take time away from their own families and business to provide families with these precious memories, especially as a lot of these families often can’t work as they are caring for a sick child.
How does it work?
Most families contact us and we fit them in within a few weeks. Sometimes it is more urgent and we put a call out if a child is expected to pass suddenly. Our aim is to create memories for families whilst their child is well enough, so the photos are happier memories, however we have attended hospices where a child is soon to pass. We work quite closely with Remember My Baby, which provides photos for stillborn or soon to pass babies, and also Forever With You, which was founded recently to provide shoots for families of terminally ill parents—a lot of photographers volunteer for some of these groups too. And it’s nice being connected with the other organisations, as frequently we get both types of shoot requests and we can pass them on to these groups.
We ask photographers to sign an agreement to provide a session and at least ten digital images if they photograph for a family, and also to ensure child protection (photographers and families agree to never leave the photographer on their own with a child). Before a photographer joins us, we also assess their family work and child photography to ensure they are experienced enough, as sometimes conditions can be tough to shoot in.
Where does your organisation’s name come from?
We often see good spiralling from people hearing about us or inspiring people to do something themselves—this is why we chose the name Butterfly Wishes. Not only are butterflies delicate and easily damaged, like the children we photograph, but we also feel we have a butterfly effect inspiring other people.
What are your funding sources?
We have received donations from The Guild of Photographers; Rob Mank Photography also organised a training day with some of our photographers to raise funds for us. We have the odd donation but generally don’t ask for money even when offered by families as we have managed to run virtually money free. Zenfolio kindly donated our website, and we have a company called Web Spider who gives us our email address and hosting. To date we have virtually all our money saved for when we get too busy and eventually will need to pay someone to help with the admin side of things.
What obstacles does your organisation face?
Our next obstacle will be to obtain charity status. When we first founded, a lot of hospices didn’t take us seriously, but now we work with various hospices across the country. We have had families apply from finding leaflets in Great Ormond Street Hospital, and most of the major children’s charities have links to us from their websites. Spreading the word is really important to us now as we initially grew slowly to ensure we were not flooded with thousands of shoot requests before we had photographers.
Do you hold any fundraising events?
No, we had one camera flash training event in Epping last year, but generally don’t have time for fundraising as there are so many other things to do. However, it will need to happen sometime in the future.
How can people get involved?
We are always looking to recruit photographers. We never pressure anyone to take a shoot, and we don’t expect a photographer to do more than one or two shoots a year—some have been in for three years and not had a shoot, while others have photographed three shoots in a year. It depends on the area and whether people have heard about us. We would ask anyone interested in volunteering to contact us via our Facebook page, or via our website. Anyone can help by sharing our Facebook page or recommending us to families, and it’s something we are always thankful for.
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