Here's to the honourable, quiet heroes of our sector

The majority of people in our sector are engaged in a decent struggle to make this land a better place, says Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

I was shocked to realise the other day that, not counting a brief spell in business, I have now been in the charity sector for 25 years. I started as a volunteer in the mid-1980s: halcyon days when big hair and lots of make-up were in - and that was just the men. It doesn't seem long ago that The Breakfast Club was the best film ever, Gary Numan was blaring out of cars, Peter Gabriel still had hair, Ade Edmondson was still funny and Live Aid made us cry.

Much water has passed under the bridge since then. Fundraising was plentiful. Recessions were short.

I raged against world hunger, ran marathons to raise money for Africa, became a manager and grew up (in that order), built a hospice and now find myself employing brilliant people who were born in 1990. I must seem old to them.

Many people in our sector have impressed me along the way - three of them especially. The late, great Nicholas Hinton, the forceful and dynamic director general of Save the Children - after whom the National Council for Voluntary Organisations' annual Hinton Lecture is named - is one. Margaret Harrison, the influential but delightfully humble founder of the parenting support charity Home-Start UK, is another. And Johanna Geddes, a tireless youth club leader in Thurso in the Highlands and the finest community organiser I have known, is the third.

But there is an army of maybe a million people much like them: youth workers, addiction advisers, cancer nurses, befrienders for young offenders, conservationists, carers for the elderly, philanthropists, fundraisers, trustees... the list is endless.

Shaping the world of today

They - you - are all that stand between countless other people and an abyss of uncaring abandon. While others talk, you achieve, often quietly and without reward. While economies stagger and governments come and go, you endure. While many bemoan a lost past, you shape the world of today.

This sector - our sector, all of us - might be deemed small by those in other lines of work, but what an impact it has. What a difference we all make, one child at a time, one club at a time, one community at a time.

You are, if truth be told, heroes. There will always be a few angels with dirty faces, but the vast majority of people in our sector are honourable, quiet heroes, engaged in a decent struggle to make this land a better place.

There is so much gloom in our society today - much of it merited, some of it not. But how great it is that almost everyone reading this, and all the other visionaries, grafters, unheralded helpers and determined doers in our sector, could say of themselves (though they never would): "I was one of the lights amidst the gloom. I was one of the many who lit up the dark sky and brought hope of a more loving sunrise to come."

Martin Edwards is chief executive of the children's hospice Julia's House

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