Interview with Vicky Gillings – Head of Communications for Lumos


At the recent LeakyCon London, J.K. Rowling’s charity Lumos presented the above video concerning the global issue of institutions. After the screening, Vicky Gillings, Head of Communications for Lumos, talked in more detail about the charity’s plans as a whole and how people can get involved in their work.

Since LeakyCon, MuggleNet has had the chance to speak with Vicky in person and get the (more detailed) scoop on what Lumos is currently up to.

Hi, Vicky. Thanks for speaking with us. Let’s start about the beginning – tell us a little more about Lumos. When was it founded? What is J.K. Rowling’s involvement with the charity?

Lumos is a charity that was set up by J.K. Rowling in 2007 and came into being after she was alerted to the plight of the millions of children living in institutions around the world through a Sunday Times article.

The article showed a picture of a young boy with physical and behavioural disabilities who was being kept in a caged bed as a way to “contain” his behavior in a so called “orphanage” in the Czech Republic. She was so moved by this that she began researching into this problem and wanted to do something to help those children who had been separated from their families, isolated from the community, and abandoned by a care system that was supposed to help them.

This article shed light on the continuing practice around the world, but particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, of placing children in institutions, not because they were all orphans – indeed the majority of children in orphanages are not orphans – but because their families were too poor to look after them, especially if they had a disability, and in some cases if they were from an ethnic minority.

Lumos works to end the systematic institutionalization of children, and it does this by working with national governments and the local authorities to close institutions, build up community-based services that help keep children with their families, and help children become reunited with their families. Lumos trains staff from the old institutions to work in the new services and supports the creation of foster care and adoption services and an education system that is inclusive for those with disabilities. We also work on an individual basis with the children, making assessments and recommendations for their needs.

J.K. Rowling is the Founder of Lumos and the Chair of the Board, so she is closely involved with the work of the charity.

The Lumos video seemed to go down well! How did you find your first experience of LeakyCon?

I’m glad you say that about the film. Describing the situation for those eight million children living in institutions around the world is quite difficult – it’s so hard to imagine their lives and the harmful effects of being without a family.

There is a wealth of evidence that shows that the children living in “orphanages,” where they are denied a family life and the individual care, love, and attention, do not thrive. Indeed, the effects of being in an institution can damage children physically, psychologically, and emotionally. Further research has shown that children growing up in orphanages have very poor life chances and are much more likely to end up trafficked, in prostitution, with a criminal record, and many more times likely to take their own lives. In light of this, we wanted a film that would convey the seriousness of the problem for those children but also explain that the solution (deinstitutionalization), while complex, is one that Lumos can deliver. I think it’s really important that we see the problem through a child’s perspective and how it must feel for them, and in this short film we see it through the eyes of “Maria.” I think that J.K. Rowling’s narration is so powerful and really engaging, it makes you want to listen.

In terms of LeakyCon overall, I really enjoyed it! I have presented at many corporate types of conferences in the past, but nothing could quite prepare me for LeakyCon. It felt more like a gig rather than a conference, and everyone there was so enthusiastic and energised. You could almost reach out and touch the energy in the room. It was a great experience.

J.K. Rowling recently tweeted about one of your petitions. How has the response been to this so far?

The response has been fantastic so far. Over 6,700 people have now signed the petition, which was set up to change the way that European Union money – public money – was being spent in propping up the outdated systems that resulted in children going into institutions. The petition was calling for the use of funds to be directed toward developing community-based services that help keep families together, support services such as community centers, and specialist help for children with disabilities and complex needs. We fully expect to see some new regulations being passed in the European Commission soon, which will make a huge difference at an international level in terms of reducing the number of children in institutions in Europe – watch this space!

Funds raised from the sales of The Tales of Beedle the Bard are said to go toward Lumos. How is this money used?

Lumos is extremely grateful [for] the generous support of our Founder, and yes, all the proceeds of the sale of Beedle the Bard meet Lumos’s operating costs. What this means is that the money we raise through fundraising goes directly to the projects where we work in Moldova, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and Ukraine – we call this our 100% pledge.

Lumos works in these countries by demonstrating, to the national and local authorities, the benefits and results of investing in changing the system that drives children into institutions. Our projects are varied, but all contribute to getting children out of institutions and back to either their family, a foster family, or within family-based care. Among many other things, we have closed three institutions in the last two years in Moldova alone; set up a number of small group homes for children who, for a range of reasons, cannot go into a traditional family home; and supported the development of inclusive education programs, which mean that children with disabilities can go to a mainstream school, much like they do in the UK and most other developed countries. We have provided emergency feeding programs for hundreds of children who were at danger of death as a result of being in institutions, and we have trained many care workers, policy makers, and education providers to better support disadvantaged children and meet their individual needs. The work Lumos does not only benefits children we are helping today but is [also] about investing in changing the system that means children in the future will not go into an institution in the first place.

What is coming up for Lumos in the rest of this year and beyond?

Lumos wants to help more children, which is why we are raising awareness of our work and building our fundraising activities so [that] we can expand our activities next year. Lumos has a model which we know works to end the systematic institutionalisation of children, and we have a vision of a world that sees every child growing up in a family or within family-based care. By 2030 we want to resign this practice of institutionalisation to the history books – and with eight million children around the world estimated to live in so called “orphanages,” we have our work cut out.

And finally, how can fans of J.K. Rowling get involved and help with the work Lumos is doing?

Fans can get involved in a variety of ways. Fundraising is a great way to get involved, and the only limiting factor to the fundraising ideas is our own imagination! One fan recently walked from King’s Cross in London, where the Hogwarts train leaves from, to Edinburgh, which I thought was really inspiring and also really hard work. But what a challenge! Fans can also join us on Twitter and Facebook and help spread the word about the work we do and help give a voice of those disadvantaged children who can’t speak up for themselves.

If attending LeakyCon taught me anything, it was that the Harry Potter fans are really energized and motivated to change what’s wrong with the world. If they choose to support Lumos, not only are they supporting J.K. Rowling’s charity, [but] they are [also] contributing to ending one form of child abuse in our lifetime and being the light in the darkness for others less fortunate. I think that is definitely something worth being a part of.

For more information, visit their website here.