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Reflections on Small Charity Week 2022

At the close of Small Charity Week, Dr Clare Mills shares some personal reflections on why she loves small charities and where our communities would be without them.

I spent Sunday afternoon having a walk round the beautiful arboretum at Howick Hall Gardens – one of many small charities I feel a connection with.* So it seemed a good place to have a think about this year’s #SmallCharityWeek.

What is it about small charities that makes them so special?

Every charity started as a small charity – when two or three people saw a need or a problem, put their heads together and tried to work out ways to solve that issue. Oxfam was founded in the 1940s by a group of people in Oxford – hence the name – and I remember the first Comic Relief night in the 1980s, set up by Lenny Henry and Richard Curtis.

Today, Oxfam and Comic Relief are two of our largest charities, working in the UK and around the world to combat poverty and the devastating impact this has on many aspects of life. There’s an excitement, a passion, an optimism around small charities. Who knows where they will go and what impact they will have?

At the same time, some of those small charities will always be small – and that’s okay, too. Size doesn’t matter – and sometimes, small is best.

Small charities can bring people together, united in a common purpose, wanting to work together to make life a bit better. Imagine a community with NO sports clubs, heritage societies, play sessions, coffee mornings, faith groups, choirs, litter pickers, and so much more – many of these activities come through small charities. We might not want to take part in all these things but would we want to live in a sterile community like that?

Communities are the experts on themselves. Articulating problems, identifying and bringing solutions – small charities are a part of the community they exist to serve. That could be a community of place, like Community@NE66, offering support and working with young people in a specific area.

Communities of interest connect people who come together around a particular subject: the Aln Valley Railway is run by volunteers who are passionate about re-opening our local railway line. And communities of experience lead to charities like If U Share Care; set up by one family after their loss, this small charity now works with people at risk of suicide and people affected by loss from suicide.

Size doesn't matter when it comes to expertise. Focusing on a specific community or issue leads to in-depth, professional levels of insight. Group B Strep Support (GBSS) supports families suffering from the devastating consequences of GBS infection, as well as expectant parents concerned that their baby is at risk of GBS infection. This small charity leads the world in working to eradicate group B Strep infection in babies.

#SmallCharityWeek is also a reminder that 'charity' has two meanings. It’s often taken to mean ‘a charity’ – a specific legal form of social change organisation. But not all charitable activity is carried out by registered charities! Because ‘charity’ can also mean action for positive social change for people's lives, communities and our world.

I enjoyed my trip to Howick Hall Gardens. I loved chatting with the volunteer in the admissions hut. I could see the care that had been taken to open up the footpaths around the arboretum after Storm Arwen. I was moved by the embroidery of local crafters, created for the tiny church. And I enjoyed my cake in the Earl Grey Tea House. So many people contributing – and that is replicated, across the whole country, by millions of people.

Thank you, to everyone who gives their time, talents or treasure (or all three!) to small charities.


*The charities mentioned in this article are just some of those that are close to my heart. No apologies given! 


Do you lead on finance for a small charity? Does your charity have a story to tell? If so, please get in touch - we're always keen to share your insight and experiences with the wider CFG community.


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