Debra Allcock Tyler: Bad times always pass - as do good ones

A sense of doom about the future of the charity sector has become pervasive; but we shouldn't lose our concept of power and possibility, writes our columnist

Debra Allcock Tyler
Debra Allcock Tyler

A few years ago, I was going through a very difficult time, both personally and professionally. I was grimly trying to get through each day, as one does, with my chin jutted and my teeth gritted, trying not to dwell too much on how bad things were. Then, out of the blue, something quite unexpected happened.

I was notified by our local police service that a woman had alleged that I had run over her baby; they were investigating to see whether they needed to bring any charges against me (the baby in question was in fact completely undamaged).

Although I knew the allegation was false (it was subsequently dropped), I nonetheless went through weeks of terrible fear, worry and further stress. As you can imagine, that straw on what I then perceived to be my heavily burdened camel's back very nearly broke me. During a conversation with my father, I was indulging in a bout of self-pity and weeping and I asked him – rhetorically, of course – "when is my life going to get better?" His response was ingenious. "Next Tuesday, at 4 o'clock, love," he said.

What was so clever about that answer was that he was right – not about the specific date and time, of course, but about the fact that even the worst of times passes at some point.

I was thinking about his words during a recent encounter with a charity that is facing a huge funding deficit and is very frightened about its future. There was a terrible sense of hopelessness about it – and this isn't unusual. I have noticed that this sense of doom about the future for our sector has become almost pervasive.

Causes cited are the lack of funding, the apparent hostility of some members of our parliament or local authorities, the increase in the needs of our beneficiaries at a time of dwindling resources – the list of worries is endless. And, for me, this is made stupidly worse by those folk who say that "this is it" – that we need to accept our current environment as the "new normal".

Well, I, for one, do not agree that we ever have to accept anything as being a new normal. When we are working with vulnerable people, we never perpetuate the myth that there is no hope for them; that they can't turn their lives around; and that they should simply accept that how their lives are now is how they will be forever.

So why should we lose our sense of power or possibility when it comes to thinking about our charities or the services that we provide? Things come in cycles – there is sometimes money, then there isn't, then there is. Sometimes we have friends in local or central government, sometimes we don't. Sometimes we grow, sometimes we shrink. But bad times always pass – as do good ones, of course. The trick is to understand that any one moment is not all of life – only part of it.

My father says that whatever anyone does to you, they cannot ever take away the skills, attitude and attributes that got you to where you are in the first place. No matter how bad things get, you still have them, and you simply start again if you have to. We can do that as human beings and we can do it as charities. There is always next Tuesday, at 4 o'clock. I'll meet you there.

Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change

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