Yesterday I wept.
Hearing the National Trust planning the loss of around 1200 staff was too much. Daily there are more stories of redundancies and permanent closures; 40% of staff at Bowel Cancer UK, a third of the RSPCA workforce, the offices of Age UK Suffolk permanently closing.
Every day we’re closer to losing charities that serve at the heart of their communities, who are helping society get through this crisis, who are essential to the fight to rebuild after this unprecedented disaster is over.
Our sector is hollowing out before our eyes and we seem powerless to stop it. It is not just the tragedy of the individual’s lives blighted by job loss but the knock-on impact on the people we serve, the communities, and the environment that I find utterly heart-breaking.
In March I wrote a thread on Twitter comparing our impact on society to the impact bees have on our ecosystem. Let me revisit that notion again in examining the continuing crisis.
What is charity?
A decade ago my former flatmate’s wife, Susie, suffered a heart attack aged 36. The Thames Valley and Chilterns Air Ambulance Service airlifted Susie to hospital. She didn’t make it but their actions gave the family precious days to say goodbye.
That is charity.
In 2016, when my dad died suddenly the impact on my teenage twin daughters was huge. Their grief was the catalyst to stress and poor mental health, which massively disrupted their education. It is only now we are getting back on track as a family. Chums, the mental health charity, to whom the school referred them for advice and counselling played a big part.
That is charity.
When a friend lost their job in 2018 and couldn’t see which way was up the local Citizen’s Advice gave them information and advice. The local foodbank fed them. Shelter talked them through their rights relating to their housing needs.
That is charity.
In Autumn last year, a beautiful soul I love very much was raped by her friend leaving her pregnant. The sexual health charity Brook stepped in to help her. And this year, as she wrestles with the fall out of the experience, Rape Crisis UK has been a massive source of information and support.
That is charity.
I am just one individual. There are millions like me with thousands of stories to tell. I’m not unusual. Not unique. My encounters with charity are typical of families up and down the land. It touches every part of our lives at one point or another - whether we know it or not.
And if it’s not there or capacity is reduced then where will we turn?
To those of us working in the social change sector, we know the impact charity has on society. Economists like Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England, know the social and economic value of what we do which he puts at £200bn.
Ask the average person what they would miss if bees continue to die out. Whilst they may say ‘honey’ I doubt they will say the bees themselves. Point out what we lose if bees become extinct - flowers, trees, crops, balance in our ecosystems – and people quickly reach for #SaveTheBees.
Ask the average person what they would miss if charities close. They may reference the services on which they have personally relied on but it won’t be the institution of charity itself. Highlight our role from research to rehabilitation and the story is different.
Like bees, we are an army of unnoticed workers. The glue that keeps communities together and a bridge between the sectors. We are there when there is no profit to be made, in the spaces unoccupied by others, frequently holding up public services.
Most people just don’t know what is captured by that word ‘charity’. Like the air we breathe or the bees who pollinate our plants, charities are all around us - trusted in our moments of individual and collective crisis. There for each and every one of us.
And contrary to what some might have you believe still more trusted and respected than most areas of society - including government.
The government’s package of support was too little, slow to be announced, even slower to be distributed and accompanied by processes and systems which by fault or design seem likely to guarantee all the money won’t be claimed. Calling this ‘emergency funding’ would be laughable if it wasn’t so seriously depressing. The sum of the package when set against the size of the loss is like saving a handful of bees but destroying all the hives.
Like the bees - this government won’t truly know what they have lost until it’s too late. With Covid19 prompting people to reassess what they value, will they be quick to forgive Government when they finally realise there are no bees and that the ecosystem is about to collapse?
I am calling on Government to listen to the buzz we are making in our sector. The noise may be irritating to them – but it is the sound of thousands of workers and volunteers keeping people alive, helping them survive loss, rape, hunger, unemployment.
And I am calling on all of us to buzz as loudly as we can – our citizens need us, now is not the time to attack each other’s hives, steal each other’s honey or hibernate.
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