Recently I was invited to speak at a community event promoting the positive involvement of local charities supporting vulnerable people across the London borough of Redbridge. As someone who has been involved in the charity sector for nearly 20 years, I was eager to go and show my support. However, going to this event was a real revelation for me as I was unaware just how many charities were working in and around the borough.
We have charities running local foodbanks, providing hot meals to rough sleepers, investing in outreach services, providing advice, as well as emotional and social support through coffee mornings and workshops.
This reminder that public services are shrinking and things are often left for charities to fill this gap saddened me. But I was also proud to see so much work is being so well-managed by small non-profits, often run by minimal staff members or wholly by volunteers. By working in partnership with each other, the charities are able to refer and signpost people ensuring they are able to get specific support. For me, this is a great reminder of what charities do best. That is, come together to support, help and empower people in need. What I saw last week, was not charities in competition with each but rather, collaborating and feeling stronger together.
To a certain extent, this approach is a necessity given that one charity can often not meet all the needs of an individual. But let us not take this way of working for granted. Which other sector truly puts individual needs at the heart of what they do, without profit? Which other sector invests time and their limited resources to learn about their peers so that they can strengthen community? That is why I love the charity sector.
That day I asked myself why, as someone who has worked in and has a passion for the charity sector, had I not heard of so many small charities working in my borough? And what are the chances of others knowing about the work and volunteering opportunities in their borough?
I know that many small charities do not have the time or resources to promote their work or shout about their impact. So maybe this is what we, sector activists, should do: have more conversations, raise more awareness and promote more of the work that is going on every day at a grass roots level. But first, simply be more curious about the life in our local areas. It felt that supporting initiatives in my borough, however small, is a step I should take. Because after realising what an impact non-profits make in my community, I would hate to think what my borough would look like without the support provided by those small charities.
So next time you are walking around your town or city, think about the key needs in your area, and who provides direct support and services to people in need living across the road. Find out who is working in your community, what they are doing. Do you like what they do, what support do they need and are there ways you can help? Often it is local charities that are running events, so go along and show your support. If we, as people who work in or care about the charity sector are not aware and are not talking about the role and impact of charities around us, then who will?