SIAB ‘Blog in a Bag’ No. 55: End of Year Review – 2020


In early January, our calendar was already full and 2020 look set to be a great year of fundraising, promotion and operations as we worked to continue our mission of Transforming (more) Lives Through Education.  Our new schools presentations at headteacher conferences widened our network and we had lots of new schools lined up to engage with, we added new corporate connections: Salesforce, South Somerset District Council One Team Showcase and Successful Women in Business to our existing brilliant partnerships with Blake Envelopes and SAP Fieldglass and Home Farm Fest 15 was taking shape with tweaks and new features.  Meanwhile, our governance refresh of shrinking the Piers Simon Appeal down to a small set up in order to make School in a Bag a standalone charity with a Trading Subsidiary bolted on was almost complete.  From an operations point of view, we had projects lined up in many of the existing countries that we support and new potential partnerships on the horizon, whilst the 40’ high top container filled with 1128 SchoolBags, learning resources, over 600 pairs of shoes and school furniture loaded in the yard at HQ bound for The Gambia was on the vessel and due to arrive in the third week of March.


Season’s greetings to you all.  2020…what a year hey? A year that most of us will be glad to move on from. And, given the very different year with so many of our events and usual fundraising processes put on hold, you could be entitled to expect a rather shorter review this year! However, for Team School in a Bag, the pandemic has created change and forced change…and this round-up will highlight those that we have implemented and those that we are working on as we adapt to the new conditions to continue our life-changing work for thousands of children around the world.

Salesforce employees packing SchoolBags on the Ohana Floor in the Salesforce Tower.  On the 29th floor, the views of the city were amazing!

South Somerset District Council employees packing SchoolBags at the One Team Showcase Event where SIAB CEO Luke Simon was the keynote speaker.

Hmmm, the third week in March – a week, when the Coronavirus that we had been watching on the news channels for two months finally reached our shores, got a grip on our nation and rather quickly shut it down.  The changing guidelines from those first daily briefings had us penning ideas for variations of how we could work, including a pared down Home Farm Fest until the reality kicked in and inevitably, we were forced to announce that our signature fundraiser, which helps fund us as an organisation could no longer go ahead. Our optimism of using this new time to ‘bring ideas on the backburner to fruition’ lasted all of a week as the realism of home schooling whilst trying to work was simply not feasible.  The plan, make use of the Government Retention Scheme by furloughing the team but keep CEO and Founder Luke on a 50% workload and salary to keep the charity ticking over.  The crash diet of our outgoings and expenditure in mid-March was of paramount importance for sustaining immediate cashflow in the unpredictable times ahead and with three of the team of four furloughed, we were momentarily able to tread water and take stock.
Now…the question was…how does a public facing charity that runs events, interacts with society and visits establishments to promote its work raise funds during a lockdown?  As the real world became accustomed to the virtual, digital world for contact, we quickly promoted the online platforms that we had (read more here) and following an article in Trail magazine outlining a virtual 3 Peaks Challenge on a staircase, Luke felt that the post on social media encouraging the idea needed to backed up with action.
The target: to summit the equivalent height elevation of all three mountains in one attempt to raise money for our partners around the world who were trying to home school in very different conditions to the luxury of our online experience.  Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we were able to make grants of £400.00 available to our partners – to read their stories, please click  here.  Their gratitude was heart-warming, but the overriding feedback was that they needed more.  How do you top the 3 Peaks?  Well, you go to the biggest mountain that you can: Everest…and once again, on May 29th our online community were very generous in supporting the 24hr challenge to summit the 4,023 flights of steps to the roof of the world (well, the mezzanine to the office) to raise more funds.

Quite brilliantly, others were joining the virtual fundraising challenge, championing our cause and by the time the second weekend in June had arrived, mini Home Farm Fest tributes in back gardens were the inspiration for raising funds and keeping School in a Bag in the social media spotlight. Read about them and the Everest Staircase Challenge here.

More often than not, it is hard to step out of the sphere of your work –  it’s inevitable really… you are fully immersed in a daily routine, working to a calendar of yearly events all built in to a model that has grown organically over the last decade and it is difficult to step away and look back at your model with any real clarity or scrutiny.  Strangely enough, COVID has forcibly afforded us this opportunity to stop, process and analyse our organisation where in normal circumstances, we simply would not have had the time or mindset to do it.

As accustomed as we are now to the digital world, we were certainly lacking in this department pre-COVID – our website was out of date, did not convert well onto mobile/tablet platforms and made fundraising rather one dimensional.  In addition, our trusty old database, built on dated software which was a step up from ‘the spreadsheet’ is now struggling with the sheer volume of SchoolBags and information we have on it.  So, it was time to get designing…and with the fantastic and patient guidance from our developers Cetast, we are very proud of the new website which gives a informative overview of our work (backed up with strong images and video clips), a comprehensive donate page offering donors variety in how they support us and a shop (more about this later!).

Check it out for yourselves here.  We are more than excited to now be working with Cetsat once again to build a bespoke database for our SchoolBag beneficiaries and donors which will not only streamline the process of crediting SchoolBags, running reports and analysing data but also provide us better donor integration, something the team has been lacking over the years.  So you’ll be delighted to know that you might be hearing from us on more personal levels in 2021 

The schools reopening in September coincided rather nicely with the easing of regulations in some of our partner countries and we are able to announce that SchoolBag distributions were back.  We are always in awe of our amazing partners around the world who help us realise our mission but our respect for them is overflowing as they have juggled COVID regulations and windows of openings in between lockdowns to coordinate our projects and distribute SchoolBags.  We are delighted that in the latter half of the year, collectively, we have been able to provide SchoolBags to children in:

Nepal:                          316 (105 + 199 + 12)
Tanzania:                     584 (75 + 400 + 109)
The Gambia:               1128
Guinea Bissau:            240 (Country 46)

And we have SchoolBag consignments being packed and In Transit to:

Georgia:                      240 (Country 47)
Ghana:                        400
Lebanon:                     250 (Country 48)
Nepal:                         124
Sierra Leone:               240

Children in Guinea Bissau, West Africa (Country 46) with their SchoolBags – in association with Humanity First

In the Autumn, we announced that COVID time had also made us re-evaluate the contents of our SchoolBags and introduced the exciting inclusion of the LifeStraw to guarantee clean, safe, potable drinking water for our beneficiaries.  The report also stated that our new Hygiene Kits were on the way and we are delighted that the first have been packed in to our SchoolBags ready for shipping to Sierra Leone and Lebanon.  The Hygiene Kit comprising a bar of soap, a flannel, a toothbrush, toothpaste and a washable face mask all housed in a small water-resistant bag is a necessary inclusion as it helps combat the spread of COVID but also promotes good oral hygiene, something that many of the children we support are lacking.
The Hygiene Kit also continues our alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals and adds SDG No. 3: Good Health and Well-Being to the list that we are helping to tackle around the world.  From a business point of view, it also opens up a wider catchment of grant funding now that our SchoolBags are compliant towards tackling COVID.  We are indebted to our corporate patrons Beechfield Brands Limited for providing the bags free of charge and the heroes who are making the wonderful facemasks which are steadily arriving at Home Farm.

November and December are usually big months for us as we dip our toes into the world of retail with a pop-up shop in our home town shopping centre and prepare for the 18hr Big Bag Pack in Tesco, Yeovil and our annual Boxing Day Walk, all events that rely on face to face contact and personal interaction.  Sadly, COVID put stop to these events in their usual format which gave us the chance to run them virtually.

Tesco kindly put static collection displays in store which we customised and added a QR code enabling donors to pay through their smart phones, walkers blew away the Christmas day cobwebs by doing their own walk donating via the website and facebook and our online pop-up shop inviting people to fund SchoolBags for Christmas blew us away with 426 SchoolBags funded up until December 22nd.  In fact, people are still funding SchoolBags now which is simply wonderful.

Despite the year being compromised, December saw us reach the next milestone of having distributed 120,000 SchoolBags since our inception in 2009 and we are grateful to everyone is has helped us get this far.

For the most part, COVID has not been as perilous for School in a Bag as it has for other charities.  To our fortune, we have good reserves from being sensible over the past two years and we have used the time to adapt to the new conditions that we now live with.  One could argue that these were overdue for us and we certainly see some of the new ways of working continuing, even if we do get back to a life of social interaction. However, the inevitability of change coupled with the expectation of an impending recession forced the realisation that some facets within our work would cease to be available.
Uncertainty has been one of the big challenges that COVID has created and with the roles that Charlotte (Finance Operations Officer) and Lis (School Liaison Officer) undertook for the team completely compromised, they both very sensibly put the feelers out for guaranteed work. We are delighted that both found fantastic full-time positions that complement their skills sets in new organisations immediately.  Both Charlotte and Lis were amazing members of the SIAB family who were instrumental in getting the charity to where we are today with 120,460 SchoolBags delivered to children in 46 countries.  We wish them both the very best of luck in their new roles – thank you.

So, four and a half have now become two and a half as we have welcomed Zoë and Louise back to work – for now our roles are rather more merged and we are still working through some of the backlog so please accept apologies and bear with us.  But in essence our time is split between promoting our ethos, fundraising, analysing our output, strategising our future and alignment towards the Sustainable Development Goals and deciding what projects we can realistically fund.  Whilst change has been subjected upon us, I am proud of the advances we have made (and continue to make) in adapting, delighted with the projects that we have completed and implemented in constrained circumstances and excited about what the digital world holds for us as we move tentatively in to 2021.

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported us during this unprecedented time – we are always grateful but doubly so this year.  It has also been wonderful to see so many new subscribers sign up to receive our news through the website pop-up – welcome to the School in a Bag network. We look forward to a time when we can see you all again in person but for now, we wish you all a healthy and happier New Year.

Yule tide regards,
Luke and Team SIAB



School in a Bag is a charity born out of the Piers Simon Appeal, a charity set-up by Founder & CEO, Luke Simon, in memory of his older brother Piers, who lost his life in the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004. To date, over 120,000 SchoolBags have been distributed to children in 46 countries around the world, giving them the necessary tools to be able to attend school and therefore have a lifeline out of poverty and hardship. Equally, if they have been affected by war or a natural disaster and had to flee their home, the SchoolBags provide the tools to be able to gain some stability and normality back in their lives by attending school. To see more of the work we do, please take a look at our website: