Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Ash Wednesday, and sector heroes.

To Mass at my favourite London Church , All Saint's Margaret St . I have been going there , on and off , for 36 years . It hasn't changed much over that time . And all the better for it . It is the masterpiece of architect William Butterfield one of our truly great Victorians . His other major work is the great Keble College(current Alma mater to my nephew Julian who is Head of Boats ) And this year is the 150th anniversary of its dedication . Just near Oxford Circus , though tucked away , it is worth a visit . The majesty of the interior's murals and tiling and , in particular the magnificent reredos over the High Altar ( paintings by Dyce ) will bowl you over .

So I was Ashed . And reminded that I am dust , and unto dust I shall return . Sometimes useful to be made to think of one's transitory appearance on this earth . We all " worthily lamented our sins and acknowledged our wretchedness " as in the magnificence of the words of the Book of Common Prayer . And the gloom of Ash Wednesday certainly fits the bleak economic conditions . One does hope all those bankers are on their knees , begging for salvation . After having given large donations to charity of their bonuses one hopes.

The sermon was somewhat fierce . The Vicar seemed to have taken as his text the government announcement on Tuesday of the rise in obesity , over drinking and incidence of type 2 diabetes. He was clear that mere giving up of chocolate did not count as self denial . All very interesting . Did he know I was coming ? Afterwards the Vicar's wife told me she has heard me at the ACEVO - Action Planning conference . I was desperately trying to remember if I had used any infelicitous turn of phrase , or worse , swearing ,which would have led to the Vicar thinking I must be singled out for admonishment?

But I have been reminded that I must not be too fierce in my criticism of business and banks by Janet F who leaves a very pertinent comment on my blog of Tuesday. As she says we must not underestimate the abilities of many of the management and staff of those banks , not overestimate our own strengths. As she says , our " performance management isn't high ".We must beware believing our own hype . These are very fair points Janet ,and you are right to moderate my polemic.

As it is Lent I want to start sharing with you stories about our third sector heroes . Our pioneers . Today it is the story of Felicia Skene . I have bicycled past her plaque on St Michael's St in Oxford . She was a Victorian prison reformer and the first woman prison visitor ib the UK. She campaigned against the Victorian attitudes to prostitutes or " fallen women " as they were called then . But she exemplifies a proud third sector tradition . She was not just content to campaign . She established a home and a training programme for women prostitutes . She would wait outside Oxford Prison at 6am for released prisoners and offer them breakfast ( and sometimes Gin , that's my sort of person! ).

To those who argue we should not be involved in public service delivery I suspect Felicia would have had a sharp word . She knew that a life of effective campaigning is strengthened by the practical experience of delivering a service .

I have never understood the attitude of some in our sector who appear to think that taking government money to provide the type of service Felicia was providing back then are somehow compromising their independence , or selling out . After all , what does a homeless person want ; a home or a protest march down Park Lane ?

I make this point as I see that Colin Rochester of Roehampton University ( in today's Guardian ) has been repeating the tired old nostrums that try to portray working with a democratically elected government as somehow giving up on independence . I have dispatched these arguments in my pamphlet on " Choice and Voice " . Available from the acevo website. But let me here just merely quote from Victor Adebowale ,

" The idea that we should turn our backs on those most at need of a service simply to maintain an ideology of independence is not only misguided but unpalatable. "

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