In our 30th anniversary year, Dr Penny Dobson, ERIC's founder, recalls how she established ERIC and the challenges faced by a charity tackling a 'difficult' cause: 

It doesn’t feel like 30 years ago since I sat in front of a plain white sheet of paper, in a small room in Bristol, to plan how to set up a new national charity! The years flew by as I led the growing team to address, initially the problem of bedwetting, then other bladder and bowel (continence problems) too. Neither was it an easy cause for fundraising. However it became apparent very early on that this cause was very much needed – as it still is today.

It became apparent very early on that this cause was very much needed – as it still is today.

The joy was hearing the relief from parents, and professionals too, that ERIC had been born and was providing them with information and support. The challenge then, as today, was in keeping ERIC alive financially. Thankfully, persistence did pay off as funders began to understand just how much bladder and bowel problems were affecting the lives of children and their families. 

ERIC's origins

How did ERIC start? Well it was the brainchild of The Children’s Society which in 1987 gave three years “pump priming” money to achieve independence as a charity. With a background in nursing and social work, I was given this challenge! The Society’s links with the now late Professor David Baum, Professor of Child Health at the University of Bristol, proved a cornerstone; Professor Baum saw bedwetting as the “Cinderella” of child health and he proved to be a great inspiration to me – as well as providing the accommodation for the project.

bedwetting is the Cinderella of child health

On that front, my earliest memory was taking a tape measure with me on day two – to measure my allotted space – a small nurse’s bedroom - for health and safety. It did not pass, so I went to see Professor Baum. His response – as ever positive and innovative – was to give me three large rooms on the top floor of a Georgian house. We were in business!  

Planning for success

Having a plan of action – even in those early days was crucial – and I had the budget to appoint an Information Officer. Together we published the first Guide for Parents and set up the first Helpline. We were inundated with calls from parents and professionals. This was in no mean measure due to Jill White, a BBC Radio 3 producer and friend. Through Jill we got a slot on BBC Woman’s Hour and the World Service, then our publicity snowballed from there  – we even had a phone call from a psychiatrist who was treating a child with bedwetting in a mud hut in Zululand, South Africa.

Another early good fortune was to discover that the then Minister for Health, Virginia Bottomley MP, had advised families with bedwetting problems in her earlier life as a social worker. She opened our first national conference at the Barbican, London in 1989 - where we launched ERIC’s first Guide to Enuresis for professionals. The event was sold out within weeks and was the beginning of 10 successful national and international conferences over the next 20 years.  

Achieving charitable status

Becoming an independent organisation and achieving charitable status within the timeframe was indeed a struggle – particularly getting the funding in. But with the help of an excellent professional fundraiser, and with enthusiasm and commitment from our small team, as well as from our first management and fundraising committees, ERIC (Enuresis Resource & Information Centre) achieved its independent charity status.

Memories during the early years include running a 24 hour Helpline from camp beds in the office - to hosting Princess Michael of Kent at a fundraising dinner at Badminton House. It again came back to the enthusiasm and generosity of people – our new Patron, Lady Berkeley brought in the Duchess of Beaufort who knew Princess Michael – and Jill brought in young musicians for no charge. ERIC gathered quite a loyal following for its musical dinners!

Fundraising challenges

Juggling developing information, education and campaign activities to meet ERIC’s core vision, in tandem with constant fundraising, meant little financial security. It was therefore a great surprise and relief in 1999 when a fax came through to say that the company Procter & Gamble were awarding ERIC funding for 3 years. Procter & Gamble continued to fund ERIC for many years after this – and joined a growing band of company supporters. This, together with money that we were earning through trading and educational activities – and our income from trust funds, gave us a period of more stability.

This enabled us to develop our campaign work to improve water and toilet provision in schools – and in 2003 I set up the Paediatric Continence Forum (PCF), to create greater government awareness of the needs of children with continence problems (I still chair this active Forum - although I'm trying to retire soon!).

Award-winning charity

I have to say that my proudest moment was in 2007, when ERIC was awarded Overall Winner of the Glaxo SmithKline IMPACT Awards for small and medium sized health-related charities. Having our name read out by the Chairman of Glaxo SmithKline at a ceremony at the National Gallery was amazing – and our team of 12, plus our management committee chair, Professor Eric Thomas, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol, went up on stage to receive the £30,000 prize. We were also thrilled later that year to be Winner in the children’s category of the National Charity Awards.   

I retired from ERIC in 2008 – and am delighted that the charity is in the extremely capable hands of its current director, Juliette Randall. She is addressing great new areas, such as the needs of teenagers and toilet training/continence programmes to support nurseries and schools.

ERIC can be proud of the hundreds of thousands of families that it has directly helped over the years, plus indirectly many more through the education and support of professionals running the NHS services. It has also had an effect upon drinking facilities in schools and the importance of good fluid intake. Parents now understand more about what they can do at home to help their children – and when to seek professional help. Treatment approaches have improved due to new research, to which ERIC has contributed - and to NICE guidelines.

The future for ERIC

Looking into the future, this area of child health will never be a priority and it will be important to continue to be watchful that further government changes do not result in a loss of NHS services. Government lobbying will have to continue! Fundraising will also continue to be a pressure for this small but much needed charity."

With thanks to Penny Dobson for contributing this blog.