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  • Whiterock Wales

Throwing cold water on charity

I got ‘unfriended’ on social media the other day. You can probably feel my emotional pain as you read this.

What caused the rift was being nominated for one of those charity challenges. More accurately, it was my pointed response as to where he could stick the ice-bucket.

Now before you go labelling me as uncharitable, allow me to point out that I have several favourite voluntary causes which I support. Some get my money, some get my time. A few get both. I’m also old-fashioned enough to do it all without a lot of fuss.

Nor do I want to get entangled in arguments as to whether we should be pouring water over each other or providing African villages with a clean drinking supply – although for the record I’ll tell you that I’m in favour of the second option.

I fully appreciate the value of celebrity endorsement. Without big names taking up causes we would never have seen the terrific work done by Children in Need, Comic Relief and Live Aid. It’s just the whole fashion statement thing that leaves me cold (and dry).

The professional in me knows that charities continually have to find innovative ways of getting our attention. It’s no longer a matter of rattling tins outside supermarkets or getting us to decant the contents or wardrobes & drawers into plastic bags for kerbside collection.

Media provides the graphic images and personal appeals that help fund-raising but there is always an upfront social conscience message.

Some reckon this trend can be traced back to the 1960s when UK public opinion was stirred by the TV play “Cathy Come Home” which highlighted the plight of homeless families. It’s said several charities sprung up in response.

Others maintain the broadcast came about due to awareness created by organisations such as Crisis and Shelter.

Charities are known for publishing hard-hitting reports pressing for social change. Their research is often excellent although the findings are seldom without an agenda.

It’s this continuous tapping on the shoulder that occasionally irritates the politicians. The latest to object to their persistence is Brooks Newmark, the UK minister for Civil Society, who recently told a meeting how charities should stay away from politics and ‘stick to their knitting’.

It’s a familiar refrain. Thankfully, it’s also one that has never quite registered with charities or the public who support them. If they had then we wouldn’t have a national health service today and young boys would still be forced up chimneys.

Many charities are at the leading edge of international aid. They go where the official agencies either fear to tread or are unwilling to spend money.

Of course there are those like the RNLI and Air Ambulance who shun the ‘guiding hand’ of government and very much value their ability to operate without ministerial interference.

Then there are the outfits I know who enjoy charitable status and every advantage that goes with it but somehow never manage to deliver much on the ground

The nature of fund raising makes it a highly competitive business. I try to tell myself this whenever pushy young people turn up waving their clipboards and credentials at me.

Somehow they never seem impressed when I tell them that my firm already supports a number of local charitable and voluntary groups on a no-budget basis. We also sponsor events recognising the important role played by volunteers.

As for the act of being charitable becoming a desire to be seen as charitable, then I guess the previous paragraph alone makes me as guilty as the next guy.

The instant recognition gained from social media simply magnifies that desire. Charities have cleverly tapped into the trend. Good luck to them – but I’ll be staying dry.

An act of thanksgiving

Last Sunday I went along to the Merchant Navy Day Service of Thanksgiving and Remembrance. It’s a commemoration that I always try to attend.

For the last nine years, people from all walks have gathered at the Merchant Navy monument at SA1 to remember the lives and sacrifice of those who served. Many had ocean-going backgrounds in the traditions of the Cape Horners while others were in coastal shipping, fishing fleets and tug-boats. All did their part to sustain the nation.

Built following a public appeal, the monument is a lasting tribute to generations of service and owes much to the determination of David Thompson-Jones and his late wife Marge who were the lynchpins of the appeal and the association.

David, has since stood down his watch but his successor Louise Snelgrove seems to be getting into the swim of things, as you would expect.

The service is always a poignant occasion. I never cease to be moved by the respect paid by so many people and I sincerely hope that Swansea will continue to remember those that go down to the sea in ships.

No jam tomorrow

Today sees the election of Rob Stewart as leader of Swansea Council. He will be the sixth to hold that post since the formation of the City and County. However, the challenges confronting him are unique.

Various people are understandably keen to present him with a wish list of ideas. My guess is that most of them will be in for a disappointment.

No-one is making it up about the likely impact of widespread cuts facing the public sector and especially local government. They are simply horrific.

Taking the council forward will mean confronting unpleasant facts about which services are affordable and which will have to be scaled back. These decisions are probably two years overdue, if not more.

I am sure Rob Stewart knows what needs to be done – which is why he has put himself up for the job.

I think he will be a listening kind of leader and ready to take advice. What I don’t expect him to do is make promises of jam tomorrow. He knows that the focus will need to be on priorities rather than spending out of habit.

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