Debra Allcock Tyler: A million-to-one chance is still a chance

The voluntary and not-for-profit sector is built on hope – that's why charities continue to fight

One of my favourite films is Chicken Run. It’s the story of Ginger, a Rhode Island Red hen, trying to lead a disparate (and desperate) group of her feathery friends to liberation from a farm before they get turned into pies.  

The barriers seem insurmountable: fences, evil dogs, and the pie-loving, axe-wielding, chicken-hating farmer, Mrs Tweedy. But the biggest hurdle is the reluctance of the chickens to even try to escape, because they have developed a fatalistic acceptance of ending up as the filling in a pie.

I suspect some of us approach this new year feeling a bit like them. Bruised and a bit broken by 2020; fatalistic as more of our citizens are mar­ginalised and made destitute; more friends and neighbours are discriminated against; more businesses close; our communities are decimated; our country’s standing in the world is trashed; feeling unheard, unsafe, unsupported – and knackered.  

It’s also tempting to see ourselves a bit like Ginger: brave, embattled sheroes facing overwhelming odds with little support. Yes, the hostility of some to us doing our work is overt and exhausting. Take the recent attempts by the self-styled Common Sense Group of MPs (yes, I am rolling my eyes) to silence Barnardo’s and the National Trust on the issue of historical and current systemic racism; or the labelling of compassionate, life-enhancing work as a ‘woke’ agenda – as if that’s even a thing.

But what these attacks, and others like them, show us is that when we know our history and value as contributors to political and cultural change, and we articulate them with determination and courage, we achieve great things. And we are never truly battling alone. Wherever there is faux culture-war outrage, there are also outpourings of support for our beleaguered colleagues – not just from within the sector, but from the wider public.

We have more support for the right to campaign, and to speak our truth to both power and the public, than our critics realise, including across much of the political spectrum. We have won many battles by being confident and clear about those rights, and the imperative of bringing moral concerns and values into the public arena. 

Change takes time. It isn’t linear, it’s sort of wibbly-wobbly-round-and-round-up-and-down – but we do get there. Think of battles such as the right to criticise apartheid back in the 80s and 90s, to more recently seeing off efforts to revise CC9, essentially stymieing the government’s efforts to roll out gagging clauses. We have a long, historical record of successes.  

There is a scene in Chicken Run when one of the chickens says there is “a million-to-one chance” of escaping a future in a pie, to which Ginger replies: “Then there’s still a chance.” 

That line is about hope. Which is also what we charities are about – and that is why we have a track record of winning our battles. 

Spoiler alert: the chickens find hope, and win their battle. We have not been defeated by 2020! We will not end up in pies.

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

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