A tale that shows the sector at its best

Community-level support provides a lifeline for people in crisis, and is a world away from the way charities are portrayed in some sections of the media, writes Martin Edwards

Despite their portrayal in the media and by politicians, charities help bind society together, writes Martin Edwards
Despite their portrayal in the media and by politicians, charities help bind society together, writes Martin Edwards

A middle-aged man recently died from cancer, leaving a wife and three children. You would not have known of him, for he was not famous and did not work in our sector. His story is still a tale of our sector, though - of the way it cares and tries to mend all that is broken.

As he entered the final stage of his life, a family friend suggested that they consider the local adult hospice. He was looked after superbly there. So too were his family, who were treated as individuals with their own needs in a way that NHS hospitals are not geared up to match. As we say in hospices, you get only one chance to get end-of-life care right.

Unmatched support

Other charities are waiting in the wings. Two offer specialist support to bereaved children and, if asked, they will no doubt meet the children's differing needs, two being teenagers and the youngest being of primary school age. Again, it's hard to imagine the state offering such support.

For families in financial difficulty who have lost the breadwinner, many industries have charitable benevolent funds. The fund for the industry this man worked in is ready to support his family. Like most benevolent funds, you hardly notice they exist until a tragedy occurs, but they are a lifeline. Mostly well run with low overheads and prompt grant decisions, they neither seek nor receive public plaudits.

For the family's teenagers, there is a local youth club that they may use, run entirely on a voluntary basis and which is funded by several grant-giving trusts. This coalition of charitable will has created a place of activity, careers advice, company and sanctuary.

When you glue a broken ornament back together again, it can never quite look or feel the same. Yet the glue of compassionate action for people in misfortune is what binds the parts of our society together.

False picture

It is difficult to equate this rainbow of community-level support with the monochrome portrayal of charities by some newspapers as bloated bureaucracies headed by fat-cat technocrats. Some of us are professionals, many more are volunteers, and plenty of us are both. Get over it.

I also don't see in the rainbow any hint of a sector too focused on political campaigning, as some politicians blithely assert. Get out there into the reality of stricken people's lives and tell me that our sector doesn't do the things that we should - largely without government funding.

But I shall set my anger aside and get back to the middle-aged man. His own footprint on this earth was not in charitable work, but in his children. His warmth and love can be seen in them. Their lives in their future communities are his finest legacy.

He did not get to see them grow up. He will not grow old. You will not have heard of him, but his name was David, and he was my friend.

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

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