My partner Andy and I were recently watching the BBC’s Film 2015. Among the new films being reviewed was Brooklyn, which stars Saoirse Ronan. The critics were clearly huge admirers of her acting, and one of them remarked that she did a very good “pensive silence”. I turned to Andy and said, musingly: “I can do a pensive silence.” He looked at me incredulously before replying: “Pensive silence?! You can barely do silence. In fact, even when you’re not talking your face is still noisy!”
Once I’d got over the cheek of the man, I started thinking about the noisy face of charity. I’ve worked in the sector for a long time, but this is the first year in which I’ve actually felt like the enemy. I’ve found myself having to defend charities, even to my own family and friends, or explain why it’s OK that they’re being asked to donate or volunteer. This is what I say:
“You should give because one day you and your family might well need them. When you are in trouble and can’t afford help, and have been abandoned by the state, it’ll be a charity such as Citizens Advice that helps you; when you are old, it’ll be a charity such as Age UK that provides support; and if you get cancer, it will be a charity like Macmillan that comforts you and another, like Cancer Research UK, that funds research into a cure.
“When you want your kids to grow and develop skills beyond education, a charity such as the Scout Association or Girlguiding will be there to help; and if you love sport or enjoy the outdoors, it’ll be a charity like your local sports club or the Wildlife Trusts that provides the opportunities. If you have a pet and can’t afford a vet, it’ll be a charity such as the PDSA that’s there for you; and if you are faced with terminal illness in your family, it’ll be a charity – a hospice – that you can turn to.
“And that’s just a fraction of the absolutely enormous number of charities, some big, some small, some global, some local, that are working their butts off to make our world a better place – and succeeding in doing so.
“The NHS would collapse without the support of charities. Without them, your taxes would be even higher than they already are in order to pay for the crucial services that are provided not by the state, but by charities. The list of people and causes our charities support is endless. Charities are all around you – you just need to listen.
“There is not a single human being in the UK, regardless of age, economic status or background, who will not, at some point in life, benefit from the work of a charity. You can’t always rely on the state to help, but you can always rely on a charity. Most of the negative media stories about the activities of charities are exaggerated rubbish. Don’t fall for it. We have the best charitable sector in the whole, wide world.”
For many of us in the sector it’s been an unutterably crap year. But this is not all of life; it’s just part of life, and a new year is just beginning. We must never, ever forget to stay loud, stay proud and, above all, hang on to our noisy faces.
First published in Third Sector Magazine, December 2015.