I've always thought August is a bad time for holidays so tend to stay around and make use of the meeting free month. Though this time it may have been meeting free but rather media full. Making the case for the professional third sector and the need for strong leadership and governance in the wake of Kids Company in particular. It put the fundraising issue into context I thought.
I spent my Sunday lunchtime talking to Sky news about fundraising in the light of the excellent letter from some of the top national charities CEOs which outlined how they will act to implement new arrangements to reinforce the highest ethical standards.
We welcome these reforms as necessary to restore any deficit in public trust. Fundraising is the lifeblood of many charities and we can’t afford to lose too much of it. There is a danger that less asking will mean less giving. Given the huge strain on many charities coping with increased demand its vital these efforts continue to be supported by the public. The recent major media attention to the refugee crisis shows how vital the work of bodies like the Red Cross, Save the Children, Oxfam and Unicef are - to name but a few of those at the centre of efforts to relieve real hardship and distress.
One thing I try to do in August is visit members where they work. Its been a memorable time. Starting with the Reader Organisation in Liverpool; based in a splendid "Calderstones Park" (they are planning on buying it off the Council). They aim to encourage children in reading out loud - so based in groups and where reading is valued and promoted among many kids for whom reading is uncommon. They are based in the old mansion in the park. Once home to one of the great Liverpool trading families its now a major community asset.
I also spent a day in Lancashire visiting facilities run by Future Directions for people with learning disabilities. The CEO is an active ACEVO member Paula Braynian and she took me to visit a range of facilities from high to low dependency. I was able to talk to a number of people who had spent time in the NHS long stay hospital Calderstones and was shocked to hear their stories about treatment there that is so often based on a regime of seclusion, medication and physical restraint. It was both heartening to hear their progress in a community facility and horrifying to reflect on the trauma of their time in an institution. The 2 people I saw had spent 10 and 12 years in institutional care at that hospital. One of these was a woman who had has a broken shoulder as a result of physical restraint. And now they are cared for in a home that refuses to use such restraint, has no seclusion rooms and won't use medication for control. A woman that was judged to be so dangerous to herself and others they predicted she would be back within 3 months is now managing her own medicine, leaving the home regularly to see her parents and teaching on courses about self harm and why it happens. She has even started volunteering with older people. It brought home to me so vividly
why we must close down institutional care and move people with learning disabilities into community support and independence. That is why my work following up on my November report on Winterbourne is so crucial. I will not rest until institutions are closed and we give people with learning disability the future and the well being they deserve but are so often denied. I'm planning on a year review of that report by the end of they year.
Then a change of tempo and it was the wonderful Battersea Dogs and Cats home, led by the dynamic CEO Claire Horton. This charity has been around for over 160 years and like the RSPCA was founded on the principle of direct action to home strays but also campaign for better conditions for our nation's animals. The revisionist wing of charity history, much in evidence in parts of our media, forget that many of our great national charities wee founded with those twin aims. People who argue the RSPCA, the NSPCC, or the RSPB should somehow just "stick to their knitting" don't understand the founding mission of those organisations where campaigning was woven into the fabric of their very existence. Caring for an abused dog is good. Preventing and rooting out abuse better.
As a dog lover I so enjoyed being shown around the wonderful facilities there and chatting with Claire about the animal charity world! There was a rather lovely terrier who was looking at me dolefully but I don't think my very own Jack Russell would be keen on a rival....
Battersea is a great example of why Britain should be proud of its charitable heritage - Battersea is an example that has been copied around the world and they continue to attract attention across the globe for their work.
You should read the great story of the Home, "A dogs life" produced for their 150th anniversary.
Then continuing the animal theme I went to the Vauxhall City Farm, led by Matthew Lock, one of ACEVO's younger CEOs. A wonderful place where sheep and alpacas, ducks and chickens roam within sight of the looming towers of MI6. They have a new block of stables for the horses much used by Riding for the Disabled. Its both an educational and health promotion venture where they work with London schools in introducing pupils to the adventure that is nature. They are in the process of a major development but are keen to expand the work they do, particularly on the health front.
Then last week I was in Suffolk to visit the Befriending Scheme, a relatively small but growing charity led by a CEO, Shirley Moore, who started with them some time back doing 5 hours a week and now runs this fabulous charity full time with over 20 staff and 300 volunteers. Its provides support in the community for people with learning disabilities as well as those with other disabilities that would otherwise isolate them at home. Shirley has wonderful plans for future developments and we talked about these over lunch in the lovely town of Lavenham.
Now Parliament is back and meetings begin in earnest. I already have 6 today! Will they be as educational as my charity visiting I wonder...
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