Debra Allcock Tyler: The real big-hearted society is made up of people who help each other out

Many wealthy families do not believe a contribution would make a difference, says our columnist

Debra Allcock Tyler
Debra Allcock Tyler

I spend a lot of time thinking about the broader issues affecting the voluntary sector and established charities. Government policies, voluntary sector responses, charity accounting, commissioning, procurement, funding ... the list is endless. In fact, when I think about state intervention in our sector, I'm reminded of the slightly risque joke made by Roz Doyle in the TV comedy Frasier. "It's not that he was bad in bed," she says. "He knew where all the parts were; unfortunately, most of them were his own."

It's a bit like that when you're dealing with local authorities and central government. They know where the parts are - they just have a tendency to ignore ours and concentrate on their own.

So it's always such a joy for me to be reminded that, when the state fails them, human beings come together to support one another anyhow, without having to establish formal groups - just by means of friends and friends of friends helping each other out. My neighbour Nicki's daughters attend the Coombes Primary School, which had an important building damaged in the snowstorm of 2009. So the school is trying to raise the funds to replace it. My friend George owns a local shop, Antique Rose. My mate Ady Williams is the ex-captain of Reading Football Club and a presenter for BBC Radio Berkshire.

None of these people know each other, but they all know me. So I hooked them up. The result was that George hosted a fundraising event at her shop with an auction and a raffle and gave 10 per cent of her profits to the school. Ady ran the auction and generally charmed and entertained folk, and Nicki galvanised the PTA into selling tickets. We raised more than £1,000 for the school - which made an enormous dent in the sums it needed.

And why did all the parts come together for each other in this way? Well, George feels responsible to her local community. Nicki believes parents should fully engage in the school their children attend - and even though her children will be there for a short time and might not benefit directly from her fundraising efforts, the children coming after them will. And Ady, despite his local celebrity status, is at heart a local lad, has the soul of a giant and wants to help.

These three lovely people knew where all the parts were, and they knew which parts mattered: giving of their time, energy and, in George's case, money to help a local school in need. And they're not alone - there are Nickis, Georges and Adys all across this country, making a big difference, often unrecognised. This is the real big-hearted society in action.

I helped too. I might not be asked to again. They put me in charge of giving out fizzy wine and cakes. Apparently I was discovered at the end of the evening under the table, snoring loudly, surrounded by several empty bottles and the tell-tale crumbs of macaroons and chocolate brownies. I knew where the best parts were too.

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

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