Balloons is a landmark charity based in Devon, which provides support to help children and young people come to terms with bereavement and loss. Offering a helpline, dedicated grief support, and family activity days, Balloons was founded by an oncology nurse (Clare Selley, now a trustee) who realised in 2005 that a child bereavement service was badly needed. Sara Bennett, the charity’s first CEO, was appointed more recently, and her vision included being able to increase the much-needed specialist work the charity does with more complex cases, such as children affected by domestic abuse or suicide.

Why Pilotlight?

Sara was seeking guidance on strategic planning, and widening their funding strategy to increase their number of Grief Support Workers.

Miles Ruffell, one of the Pilotlighters on the project commented that this particular project “seemed almost a model project; a small charity with a dynamic and relatively new CEO with a supportive board and a need to develop a coherent vision and strategy for the next few years.” 

What we did 

Over the course of 12 meetings, along with Sara, the team worked not only towards a comprehensive strategic plan, but also on increasing the confidence of the senior management to make the changes needed. A key element of the work was in helping Balloons to plan for and then run their first ever Strategy Planning Day.  

Sara, CEO: “…it’s all too easy to get so immersed in the frantic day-to-day management of the charity that it’s very hard to step back… This is where Pilotlight was so helpful.”


The collaboration between Pilotlighters and Balloons was extremely fruitful; in particular, the positive work on their first three-year business plan resulted in Balloons being contacted by Children In Need to discuss further collaborative work. They also worked on an evaluation framework to help analyse their impact, communicate it, and make changes based on the findings. More recently, they have been awarded a full three-year Big Lottery grant. Sara felt most of all that the project gave her new ideas and ambitions, which have changed Balloons for the better. 

Sara: “I think we ‘grew up’ with the support of Pilotlight, staying true to our local roots and relationship with partners, whilst growing our ability to place ourselves within the national landscape.”

Miles: “I think we were lucky to be able to deal with an outstanding CEO and a charity doing such valuable work.”

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