Published: 30 March 2017

Last month children’s medical research charity Sparks announced that it will be joining Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity in a partnership. Elvira Morrison, Head of Sparks spoke to AMRC about the partnership and their first milestone - launching a joint National Call.

Sparks raises money to fund pioneering child health research across the UK, helping to find new treatments and cures for children and families who desperately need them.

The research they fund aims to have the greatest impact in diagnosing, treating and curing childhood conditions, which affect children during pregnancy or childhood, taking them from the lab bench to the patient’s bedside. The charity has funded nearly 300 ground-breaking research projects across the UK.

Elvira Morrison, Head of Sparks, with Tim Johnson, Chief Executive of Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity (Source: GOSH Children's Charity)

Why did you decide to partner?

"We talk to lots of families affected by children's illnesses and we know for many of them, research is their only hope. It's quite astounding how little funding goes into paediatric research, only five per cent of public and charitable research funding each year goes into the research of children's diseases. Children urgently need treatments and cures for the conditions they face, and after reaching a milestone year for the charity, we felt we had a responsibility to do more and drive more funds into paediatric research."

"In order to achieve this we talked to our supporters, looked at our operations, and our fundraising model and knew it wasn't going to be sustainable in the longer term to help deliver what children need. We knew we had to make changes in how we worked."

"Last year we started to look for a charity strongly aligned with our work and values, that we could partner with to help us to fulfil this aspiration - we knew we couldn't do it alone. We approached Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity to explore a partnership - as a children’s charity with a strong reputation for funding national research, it felt like the natural home for Sparks."

"Working together, the combined strengths of the Sparks and the Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity brands can help deliver more funding for paediatric research. It just makes sense."

"It's a hugely exciting opportunity. Together, we have a shared passion and commitment to maximising support for underfunded paediatric research. It's an exciting time for both charities."

How did this partnership come about?

"Sparks approached Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity last summer as we were looking to increase investment in, and raise the profile of, paediatric health research and felt that the best way to do this was to partner with another charity." 

"The partnership started on 1 February 2017. We're working as one team in the Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity offices and it's great to be sharing ideas and expertise to maximise the opportunity ahead."

"Under the new arrangement Sparks has joined Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity as a subsidiary, whilst retaining its own external brand identity and charity number.  Sparks’ research programme and fundraising activities have continued, raising money exclusively for child health research and to support projects nationwide."

What have you got planned?

"April will be an important milestone for the Sparks and GOSH Charity partnership as we will launch our first joint National Call. This is when we will invite grant applications for child health research from researchers right across the UK to apply for funding into their projects. More funding will be available than ever before so our first year in this new format is going to be a really exciting one"

"The emphasis of this first joint national call is on complex childhood illness, including rare diseases and will support translational research across the spectrum of medical conditions which affect children during pregnancy or childhood. We will also be looking for research that demonstrates a strong partnership between clinical and laboratory based research. As part of the Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity family, together we will be able to provide £2m for researchers from across the UK to apply for next year – increasing the opportunity and reach. We hope to attract some strong applications for funding."

"This April Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity and Sparks runners will be running together for the first time as part of the GOSH Charity family at the London Marathon. We are excited to be cheering over 400 runners and celebrating their success."

What impact will this partnership have?

"For many seriously ill children, research is their only hope yet research into diseases affecting children receives only a small percentage of available research grants."

"With this partnership, we are giving researchers the opportunity to apply for grants from a much larger funding pot. I hope this sends a positive message to children with illnesses and their families too – they are why we exist and this is for them. Like us, Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity funds research right across the country. It was clear from the offset of our discussions that a partnership would amplify our ability to fund nationwide research."

What advice would you give to others considering a partnership?

"If you can achieve your vision more effectively by collaborating with others, then I'd say have courage and explore a partnership."

"Collaborating with others in this way reflects a general trend within the sector - the proposed new code of governance for charities says that charities should consider partnerships, merger or dissolution if others are seen to be fulfilling similar charitable purposes more effectively. Our partnership has been supported by the Association of Medical Research Charities and the Institute of Fundraising."

"There's a lot to think about, but knowing you're doing the right thing will spur you on. In fact, some of the best conversations I've had with supporters has been to tell them of our exciting future."