Opinion: Diana fund bows out with brave gesture

Nick Cater, consultant and writer, catercharity@yahoo.co.uk

Suddenly, the Don Quixote of the voluntary sector has been transformed.

Once, it was a deluded adventurer on a broken-backed nag of a legal case, tilting at the windmill of a tacky American merchandise peddler about the precious image of its heroine.

Now the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund is reborn as a valiant knight, hunting out dragons by the dozen with armour shining, steed magnificent and lance all a-quiver.

Hence the recent announcement of its admirable spend-out programme, with £5m to ensure the broad sweep of its existing work does not falter, £10m for its pioneering palliative care programme, and - boldest of all - another £10m for work with young refugees and asylum seekers.

To be fair, there are echoes here of final-term prime ministers and farewell rock tours, in that the fund knows it is heading for closure by 2015 at the latest, and can thus ignore the easy or expedient to go for broke as it exits with a flash of spurs. But with 42 previous grants under its refugee and asylum seeker theme alone, the fund has a network of well-informed contacts. The spend-out has also been informed by a listening exercise to discover what others in the sector see as the best use of its money. This is surely a useful tool - an accountability mechanism many more grant-givers should use.

Having in the past worked on the vexed issue of how the media portrays refugees, I do hope the Diana fund takes particular note of those urging it to bring together and support groups trying to tackle hostile media and public opinion.

Now, more than ever, we need to see a united effort to dispel the grim ignorance and nasty xenophobia that pervades debates about new arrivals and older, established minorities - especially when this is deliberately fanned by tabloids and politicians.

Any encounter with migrants will soon show that these are very ordinary heroes, deserving respect for making incredible efforts to find refuge from horrific oppression, or merely to secure the opportunity to feed, clothe and educate their children.

In so publicly tackling refugee issues, the Diana fund is obviously issuing a call to join the chase, because £10m - however well it is spent - can only be a start, especially in transforming attitudes.

The question is: will other funds, charities, companies and philanthropists follow Diana's lead?

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