Third Sector Podcast: The Civil Society Group

This week's episode looks at the new collaborative body

This week, Third Sector editor Emily Burt and news editor Andy Ricketts look at the Civil Society Group, a collection of more than 50 charity umbrella bodies that aims to increase collaboration and engage better with the government. 

Emily is joined by Kathy Evans, chief executive of Children England and James Watson-O'Neill, chief executive of SignHealth, to talk about the objectives of the new body. 

Plus, Emily and Andy reflect on the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow and swap stories in this week's Good News Bulletin. 

You can listen to the episode below, or wherever you get your podcasts:

Transcript 

Andy Ricketts: Hello and welcome to the third sector podcast. I'm Andy Ricketts news editor

Emily Burt: And I'm Emily Burt, Editor of Third Sector, The UK’s leading publication for the voluntary and not-for-profit sector. Each week we sit down for a quick fire conversation about the interesting or unusual goings on in the charity world.

And this week we're discussing the newly-formed Civil Society Group, and speaking to Children England's Kathy Evans and James Watson-O'Neill from SignHealth to find out more.

After that we'll be bringing you this week's good news bulletin – but first we are going to have a few reflections on the COP26 climate conference, which closed last weekend up in Glasgow.

Andy, did you follow the cop news?

Andy Ricketts: Well, it's kind of difficult. Not too, isn't it. If you're having any interest in the news whatsoever. Cause it was obviously been massive and um, yeah, kind of everywhere, but then equally kind of ultimately, maybe slightly disappointing, but we'll get onto that sweetness as we discuss it a little bit.

Emily Burt: Indeed. You know, I think sometimes that can be so much noise around events like this that you sometimes wonder actually what's the news that is coming out of it. But we saw world leaders gathering in Glasgow to reinforce actions on climate change and attempt to limit our global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels – the temperature that scientists say must be maintained in order to avoid climate catastrophe. So it'll be interesting to see what actually came out of that fortnight of negotiations and discussion.

Some headlines include the fact that for the first time ever at a cop conference, we saw an explicit plan to reduce the use of coal.

That's quite a big one because it is responsible for 40% of annual CO2 emissions. However, countries agreed only a week, a commitment to phase down rather than phase out coal after a late intervention in the negotiations by China and India.

Andy: And a pledge was also made to significantly increase money to help poor countries cope with the effects of climate change and switch to clean energy.

Also a trillion dollar a year fund from 2025 has been floated. However, that's after a previous pledge for richer countries to provide one billion dollars (that's about 72 billion pounds a year) by 2020. And he was missed.

Emily: So I think that was a slightly embarrassing moment in the conference where these countries had to sort of apologize for missing that financial pledge. So not necessarily a great precedent. That's been set around this.

Additional pledges included leaders from more than a hundred countries with about 85% of the world's forests promising to stop deforestation by 2030. And there was also a scheme to cut 30% of methane emissions by 2030.

However, most of the pledges being made at the cop 26 conference are going to have to be self policed. And there are just a few countries who are taking the step of actually making them legally binding. So seeing how these are going to be enacted, that's still a little muddy. Yeah, for sure. And that self policing thing, I think is probably the thing that most people are most concerned about.

Andy: I reckon that most people were probably hoping that there was going to be some more properly legal. Binding agreements that might actually tie countries to doing something specific, but, you know, with it being self policing, we just have to hope that everybody can do the right thing.

Gabriela Butcher, Oxfam International's executive director, said the request to strengthen 2030 reduction targets by next year was an important step, but that the real work has to start now.

The charity called on big carbon - especially rich countries - to align their targets, to give the world the best possible chance of keeping a temperature rise of 1.5 degrees within reach, but just said, in a statement it's painful that diplomatic efforts have once more failed to meet the scale of this crisis, but we should draw strength from the growing movement of people around the world, challenging and holding our governments to account for everything we hold.

A better world is possible.

Emily: Yes, absolutely. She did end on quite a positive note there, but we did also see some fairly robust criticism coming from the charity sector about the outcomes of cop 26. Theresa Anderson, who is the climate policy coordinator at ActionAid international described the outcome as an insult to the millions of people whose lives are being torn apart by the climate crisis.

She accused wealthy countries of hanging those most impacted by the effects of global warming, hanging them out to dry.

As you said Andy earlier, you know, I think a really important point around this is the self-policing element. So whether the decision-makers will really be capable of meeting the targets that they have set for themselves is still kind of very much open to interpretation.

I'd say as well as kind of some critiques of the outcomes and the goals that were being announced at the conference., we did also see criticism of how the event itself was being managed.

Cat Pettengell, Director Climate Action Network UK said civil society and observers faced a range of barriers from the very beginning of COP26.

She described basic access to the conference being severely restricted, and witnessing many people who had travelled from developing countries under severe restrictions due to the pandemic and at huge personal cost to attend onsite discussions, excluded from the proceedings, and they were finding themselves unable to attend the onsite.

Andy: Also Helen Rumford, who is policy and advocacy advisor on aid at the NGO umbrella body Bond was also describing some of the difficulties that civil society participants had: they had to overcome the logistical challenges of traveling to Glasgow, but then they found themselves shut out of negotiating rooms and instead directed to a poorly functioning virtual platform.

It really, wasn't a great look for a cop that was built by the government as the most inclusive. And I think those logistical difficulties did cause quite a bit of embarrassment, especially in those first weeks of the cop. 

Emily: I heard from my friend and colleague, Chloé Farand who is a brilliant climate change journalist, and she spent the last fortnight, our cop in Glasgow covering the event for the climate change news site, Climate Home News.

When I was talking to Chloé, she said, you know, civil society had their own hub in the conference space, but ultimately had basically no place in the rooms and very little voice.

When it came to the actual negotiations, they were sort of lumped together, civil society, NGOs they're all over there. And then elsewhere, we have the political leaders. We have the decision makers and the hard negotiations going on.

So I think this is kind of a part of a much wider conversation that we've seen a lot of in the sector about how charities can make themselves heard, how they can bring that value to important decision-making processes and get that place in the room.

It's quite a commonplace discussion, uh, that we see among the sector. And of course it's no easy feat in the face of a government that I think many would probably describe as being low-key hostile towards civil society. So in our main interview this week, we're going to be talking to a group that is trying to overcome these barriers.

Civil Society Group Interview

Andy: Earlier this month, 55 charity umbrella bodies launched a new group aimed at increasing collaboration and engaging better with the government. The civil society group is formed of members, including the National Council of Voluntary Organizations. The chief executive body Acevo, the chartered Institute of fundraising and the small charities coalition, and a statement.

The group said it wanted to increase collaboration among members, improve efficiency and effectiveness, and clearly articulate, shared priorities to the government. Absolutely.

Emily: And I think it was announced as a new group and we discuss it in a way as a new group, but really what we're looking at here is an evolution of something that has been existing now for a good 18 months.

Um, it grew out of umbrella organizations that were working to lobby the government for financial support in the early days of the pandemic last year. And you know, we've talked on the podcast before about. Brilliant. And to an extent unprecedented, that level of cooperation was during the pandemic. So it's really nice to see that collaborative energy being continued and preserved as we move out of that sort of immediate crisis.

Andy, how structurally is this going to work?

Andy: First up the group says it is open to be joined by other voluntary sector representative bodies. So it is possible that it could expand, but for now the civil society group has a strategic oversight organisation of 16 bodies, which will set overarching priorities for the group.

This oversight team includes four seats that will be given to charities on a revolving basis. And the oversight group will work alongside three subgroups that focus on influencing policy development and sharing information.

Emily: The initial priorities for the civil society group are going to include improving Crosswhite hall relationships, creating a framework for coordinated action across the sector on improving race equity and talking to the charity commission about sharing information on what is happening across the sector. And at the regulator.

Andy: When the group was announced, as spokesperson said, it was informal and not intended to represent or speak on behalf of the voluntary sector, the group was expected to operate on a collaborative basis and it was not anticipated that all members would agree on all issues.

Emily: Definitely elements of debate I’m sure will be cropping up from time to time. So to find out more about the civil society group and what it hopes to achieve. I'm now joined by Kathy Evans of children, England and sine health James Watson-O'Neill.

So, hi, Kathy. Hi James. Thank you so much for joining me this afternoon.

So tell me, when did you decide that the collaboration which had been happening during the pandemic needed to have this kind of group effort to allow it to contain.

Kathy Evans: I'm not sure it was my decision. Um, my own perspective is that as soon as I became involved in the sort of the white heat of the early lockdown attempts to collaborate on the first that everyday counts push to get government, to appreciate the pressures on our, on the sector, the ways in which she was standing up already to the, to the emergency.

I remember thinking not only is this something that has to happen in this context, but kind of why didn't it happen before?

Anyway, as, uh, I, you know, I've been running an infrastructure body, a small one with a niche beneficiary group since 2013. And it's not that I had no relationships. I mean we're a member of NCVO ourselves, not least, but I knew the other infrastructure bodies, or at least a certain number of.

But it kind of brought home to me that actually, if we're all going to do the best job we can, while not competing with each other or, you know, kind of try and trying to put all of our eggs in one basket and asking some heroic leader to do the impossible that none of the rest of us can do, then this is what.

It takes for us to really sit down and work out how we share information, how we, how we coordinate our efforts, how we appreciate and let the leadership come from those who, who have the greatest expertise on different issues. And we can't do that without a structure for collaborating. So I don't remember a date to when I thought the civil society group must be created.

I remember thinking it should have been created a long time.

James Watson-O’Neill: Yeah, I really agree with what Kathy said. I think we did an exercise during, uh, I guess probably towards the end of last year, beginning of this year, to try and analyze what people were getting out of the COVID-related get togethers, which were weekly, you know, there were very important part of our COVID experience.

And I remember the school. Um, schools were very high for the simple act of, of being together and sharing intelligence and kind of not reinventing wheels left right. And center and just kind of the collective power of that. I mean, the word power in its most. Positive sense, possibly quite a lot of love in the room.

You know, I think there's something very special about our sector and the atmosphere and culture and kind of feeling, uh, of it. And I really saw that in the room. I really saw that in the way that the work evolved. So if it does feel like a very natural evolution to me of what the group should do next.

Emily: So I only joined Third Sector in 2019, so I'm still relatively new to the title, still relatively new to the sector itself. But something that really struck me was the difference in terms of attitude that I saw when I started in say April 2019, and then looking at April 2020 and the energy and the collective energy that the sector showed in those early days of the pandemic was an absolute world away.

I had people in the pre-pandemic world saying we have a bit of a problem with siloing in the sector. And people get very immersed in their own causes, or they get very immersed in their own, you know, umbrella body groups or their own organizations. And there is not as much communication happening between all these different, you know, parts that could be.

Suddenly in April, 2020, this massive collective energy just, just took off. And it was really extraordinary to report on that and to, and to sort of bear witness to that.

So what impact are you hoping that the group is going to have looking forward?

James: Well, I think it, your, your perspective’s really interesting because, you know, I've been in this sector for 20 years and, and definitely don't have that kind of objectivity, but I would have seen things in 2019 and a much more positive way.

But I suppose it just takes like one drop of water to turn a glass of water from half full or half empty or half empty half full. Right. So, you know, I think a lot of people may have perceived others to be in silos, but actually I'm not sure that was the case.

There are one of the things I've loved about being part of this work is witnessing both the new relationships developing between organizations and between leaders, but also the strength of the standing relationships. You know, there are a lot of people who've been working together for quite a long time.

And I think that strength is not just from the period of COVID. I think that's from a, uh, kind of a broader, um, history and I'm, you know, I'm an optimistic, positive person. I think it's important to be that way, particularly in the current time and particularly about our sector, because we come to work to change the world.

You know, you, you can't do that. If you think everything's awful and, and will always be that way, you can't do that because you think everything's often asked to change and, um, and actually not, everything's awful. Lots of, there are lots of great things, right? So, um, yeah, I think the opportunity is to harness that.

Kathy: That was harnessed during COVID it and begin to accelerate and amplify that. And I think really importantly, not to diminish or step on the toes of other things and other organizations and other collectives, you know, this is not a competition. This isn't a pie that people are having slices of. This is, you know, more is more, many of us are parts of many other, um, collaboratives or organizations.

And, I think this has a really, this new group has a really important role to play.

Kathy: I have a perspective on the distinctive challenge for infrastructure organizations, which I agree with James about the beauty and the, and the energy and the positivity of the sector. But I think one of the challenges for infrastructure bodies has always been.

In a way, if we're doing our job, well, we should be invisible because we are about what our members do and whereabouts supporting what they need in order to carry on with their jobs or to achieve their objectives. And I'm not saying we should, we should be invisible. But what happened with the pandemic was suddenly really hot to embrace the idea that this is it.

This is a situation in which this is what infrastructure needs to do because all of our members are so busy. So heads down trying to just carry on or to adapt what they do to be there in their communities. This is exactly the moment when infrastructure is needed to take a lead.

So, and I've not really lived through comparative situations where suddenly the, the front foot, the most obvious thing was we need to have a body or bodies that are making our case while we're getting on with trying to survive. So I think that's part of what changed. Clearly. There's just been this incredible richness.

Different kinds of sizes and specialisms of infrastructure for a long time. But many of us understand that as needing to be a support rather than a lead role. Um, so stepping into not just an emergency situation where our members needed. All to represent them, but to then have to pull together a mechanism for coordinating that so that we weren't all arguing against each other.

Um, there were definitely tension, tension points along the way. There may be maybe people who want to look back on that and say would have been better if or something else would have, would have been more successful. But I'm incredibly proud of the speed with which that understanding that we had. Get our heads together.

We had to collaborate, not non-compete and to do something that was really time bound and really essential for the survival of our members.

Emily: Absolutely. And you keep touching on the word collaborative there and that need to be working together. Uh, not working obviously against each other. And the model, the setup of the group has got a structure that looks very collaborative and very much like a kind of a shared effort.

So what is the thinking behind that?

James: Well, I think the there's an oversight group, which does what it says on the tin really. Um, and that takes the, I guess the kind of organizational role, and there are, you know, 16 organizations in that I think, um, it's, uh, it's working really well, um, and really taking the lead on the kind of development and evolution of the group.

But then there are other groups that come together. One of which in many ways, replicates the broadest possible group we had during COVID with I think, 50 or 60 members attending. And so there are different spaces for different parts of the work to happen. Um, policy colleagues coming together, for example, or that wider network of colleagues, sharing intelligence and understanding what's happening.

So I think, um, college has done a really good job of trying to design. And an organization that isn't an organization, you know, um, a way of coming together that isn't too onerous and doesn't try and replicate, uh, a membership body because that's not what it's meant to be. It's meant to be this kind of relatively fluid open space.

And it's early days, you know, I think we all want to keep reviewing what we're doing and make sure that it's working. Um, but it's, it's certainly to him really well. 

Kathy: That's right. And so that oversight group, we really had a sense that there were some organizations of different sizes and still different, different focuses, but some that are taking on the challenge of representing charity and volunteering community efforts in the broad round.

Uh, so small charities, coalition, NCVO, charity finance group that, that are any, and all, all charities, whatever their mission or whatever, their specialism. And then. Much more niche kind of bodies like, like children, England, where it covers plenty of public policy to be too concerned about children, but our membership, or really heads down in the detail of what's happening in children's services, et cetera.

We wouldn't pretend to represent all charities. So that oversee oversight group, you know, is, is there as the big umbrella, if you like in every sense. And then. We also have task and finished groups or specialist, subject groups, and so on it, my main involvement now is that I chair a group across infrastructure bodies, concerned with contracting and the procurement reforms that are coming.

And we, we did a huge amount of work with lots of sector wide input on the procurement green paper. It sounding at the moment as if that's had some real things. On what's going to come through in the legislation and more room for more. So we decided on the, kind of the overarching structure under which to make sure we've got the flexibility to cover the issues that the sector needs to either represent on or address for ourselves.

James: Yeah. And, and I, um, SignHealth is not, uh, can't remember the language, but we're, uh, we're we put ourselves forward. I put myself forward to join the oversight group because I really enjoyed the work. And I think that work's really important and I'm really passionate about diversity in the sector. And I run a disabled people's user led organization, and I want to make sure that disabled people are at the table and that we are.

Consistently, considering diversity as part of what we do. Um, so I'm really glad to have been welcomed into the oversight group. Um, and like Kathy, one of the things I'm working on as part of the group is, um, on diversity and on dismantling racism specifically, and some of the commitments that were made last year around the home truth report from Akiva and so on.

So it's great to try and weave some of that stuff together and make sure it doesn't all get too separated.

Emily: It was great to hear you say Kathy, a moment ago that, you know, you think you've been able to drive some policy changes through thanks to the work of the group, which we'll be keeping an eye out for in terms of the procurement coming up.

Of course, you know, the, the everyday counts campaign right now, the Nevermore needed campaigns. There was, these were all really important, you know, and very necessary movements. And I remember at the time they were really galvanizing efforts, which drew the attention of media and were able to platform the very specific challenges that the charity sector was going through, which I think a lot of people, a lot of the public one, not understanding what those problems were, but ultimately I'm not sure the government really responded to.

In the ways that it could have done. And earlier in the podcast, we discussed kind of the, the outcomes of cop 26. And we were hearing similar messages from various civil society leaders saying ultimately when it comes to it, you know, w we're sort of invited along generally, but we're still being kept out of the room and kept away from the tables.

What do you think needs to happen to ensure that the work of this group can persuade a government who are not in my opinion, that minded to listen to the sector. What can they do to persuade the government to pay attention and to give the sector the support it needs. 

Kathy: We had a fascinating discussion around a lot of these issues, uh, at, um, directory for social change event last week, which I know third sector did some reporting from.

I share your view that there's a lot of not listening happening and maybe cop 21 was further proof of that. But actually within our number across the, across this, uh, civil society groups membership, I've actually learnt a lot from organizations whose relationships with government are actually bossy better than ours.

And, you know, we, you know, we are diverse in all sorts of ways and some of them. Include that there are organizations with really solid relationships with government and some organizations who aren't just trying and being excluded. Some organizations really pride in. Or not having a close inside relationship with government is part of what people support and join them for.

So we've had a lot of dialogue and a lot of creative tension at times about navigating or respective instincts about how close to try and get to government or how loud to shout. That's never going to go away. But I think that having spent a year. Now a year and a half practicing those dialogues and working out, which in our number has good relationships with government, uh, that we, we can try to protect respect and nurture while actually creatively using those who have maybe a sharper more outside a lobby.

Kind of profile because it's combining them that actually can have the best effort, the best effects sometimes, you know, combining intelligence and insight, a perspective that can be gained from good government relationships. Just to inform questions about what kind of messages might strike home. What kind of interests do resonate with, uh, government ministers?

Um, all of that can help us be stronger without. The simplistic about, about taking one track or the other.

James: I also think though that there's something really interesting about the news stories at the moment about our kind of politicians and second jobs and you know, all of the kind of lobbying stuff. And you do wonder is this the moment where we stopped doing all those deals behind closed doors?

Is this the moment where influencing government is a more open and dare I say honest activity, because you know, it should be possible in the kind of democratized world of, you know, social media and websites, to some degree for all organizations to say, this is what we think should happen. And this is why.

Particularly for user led organizations where our voices are very rarely heard, we have, we're very clear asks of government, um, of our, our government. And I don't know that that should rest on the relationship of what is almost always a white, straight non-disabled man. And they're similar government counterpart like that.

And I'm not, I don't want to, I'm getting off that bus. I don't like it. Um, I never brought it to. And I don't want to be on it, so I'm getting off and I hope, I think everyone else is too. So, you know, I, I hope that there will be a world where that just works differently and honestly openly call me an optimist.

That's all right. Optimism's good.

Emily: So to bounce off that. Um, as we've been discussing and you've made this quite clear throughout our conversation, you don't intend the civil society group to speak for the sector. And of course the sector is not that homogenous group. It's exactly the opposite. However, it's likely that there are going to be occasions when it needs a voice.

The sector needs a voice to come out and represent it. And it seems as though the group would be quite a likely candidate for this. So in that circumstance, how would you navigate any tensions that might arise around that?

Kathy: Okay. If I just kick off on that, I mean, I think, I think that one of the areas where I would certainly say we could have been stronger or at least it would have been great.

If we had been stronger was on being able to secure really high profile media attendance. For the things that we were galvanizing and campaigning around, uh, it was a real struggle. And perhaps that, that needs to be set in the context of a pandemic during which most media attention was on a global pandemic, but there were other parts of parts of our society that got a lot more attention for their struggles than we did.

And we were trying desperately to work out how to do that. But I think in some ways it showed that it's not just perhaps some of the government, that's not. To us and, uh, and our, our sector. I'm not sure that we have particularly strong allies in media and journalism on whom to call. Reliably to say, if there's something up in our sector, will you help us raise it?

So I, you know, that's on the list of where we need to develop stronger relationships and maybe think, think about what the media these days is most interested in and needs from us in order to do that representation. But I think within the collective, within, within the civil society group, on the occasions and the times when we've got a shared view and a shared objective, and we're trying to push for it, this is exactly the forum through which.

To fight to identify who's our lead spokesperson on that issue authentically, because it's what they do and it's, and it's what they're best at. And for them to know that they have the support of the wider sector in stepping out. So in a way it's, it's good preparation for being much clearer about strong spokesperson in, as you say, there are lots of voices.

James: Lots of voices, I think are often a really good thing. There's an alignment scale that we use as a group that allows us to test, are we really that far apart or are we closer than we think? And so there are, you know, that tool I think, has already been and will continue to be really helpful to help, you know, to navigate those sorts of situations.

But also as Kathy was saying earlier, so many infrastructure bodies that are part of. The group, if it's actually the work of our, and the voices of our member organizations that are being amplified, and that that's a, you know, a really comprehensive chorus of voices from lots of different places that talks to the kind of invincibility really of this, you know, organizational thing.

That's not, it's not the interesting thing is it's the content. It's the message. So I think it's okay for. The group to work together, to coordinate and to share intelligence and to get the heads up to organizations who may be worried by something and, and reassure people, but ultimately for government and for the public to hear from the people who are benefiting from these organizations work, you know, that's really, really important.

I think I see that in the spirit of the way that the groups work, you know, that that's what people want to achieve. This isn't no one's empire. You know, which may be difficult for some people to believe, but genuine laid that's the case. And that feels very new. You know, I joined a sector at a time when I saw a lot of people building empires and I actually, I think I probably spent a few years thinking, oh, that's what you're meant to do.

Okay. Thankfully I've learned from Kathy and others. That actually, that's not the way to do this, the way to do the system, just to share and be humble and to amplify one another.

Emily: So you've got the group established, you have your structures established, um, Ready to go while growing, while learning. Um, what are your priorities?

Kathy: Broadly, I just think it's to start embedding the processes so that it's not, you know, if we've got the structures and the processes, right. Then it ceases to be about them because it's, it's, it's a structure through which to let dialogue take place on how to take forward the things that matter.

So I know I've said already, we've got a lot of. A lot more policy work to do and to coordinate on the procurement green pipe. Well, what was the current green paper and what apparently will be a transformations bill in the next, in, in the new year. And that's just one example. I think James should tell you about his self will to trying to is, um,

James: the work we're doing on dismantling racism.

Specifically, as I mentioned earlier, briefly, Uh, organizations and chief exacts made pledges in relation to the, um, Nevermore needed campaign. And that was in response to the home trues report that Akiva published with voice for change. And so we've been working as a kind of small task and finish group on how do we, I guess, report back to the sector on the progress that we're making and how do we share the intelligence?

Um, that we have gained from that. Um, and how do we celebrate some of the achievements too? Because a lot of progress is being made, um, certainly by lots of the organizations that I've spoken to and, and got insight from. Fantastic. And, and so how can. Charities get involved because I know that, you know, the group is open to expanding and having more join them.

What can they do if they want to get involved email collaboration@dsc.org.uk, um, to ask for information and to, you know, talk about joining. Push you into the process. Um, and yeah, it, I think it's really important for us to emphasize that it is very open. So many of these things can feel like closed shops even when they're not meant to be.

And this really isn't meant to be, –  my image for you is to think of it more as a gazebo with no sides, um, just a sheltering roof to come underneath. We want people to feel able to join and, and able to kind of step out and step back as well.

Emily: James, Kathy, Thank you so much for your time today.

Good News Bulletin

Emily: Each week as ever, we are bringing you a good news bulletin, a positive or a quirky news story that we've spotted in the sector.

And today I want to give a massive shout out to Sophie Ellis-Bextor, the pop star, who at this morning of the recording has raised more than £800,000 for children in need after completing a 24 hour dance-a-thon.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor: [But seeing the highlights is that she made me feel a bit weepy because it's kind of made me realize what's been going on. I'm not surprised because. It's probably quite easy to make me cry at the moment to be fair. Are you feeling a bit on the edge? You know what? I'm actually feeling really good. And for the last few hours I've had in my head or the faces of all the people I met or the projects I've visited.

When I was getting around the projects, I didn't really know what impact it would make on me. So I just think I cannot complain because the money that this is being raised is going to people who really need it. And I'm just dancing. So I'm here for us. ]

Emily: So Sophie Ellis-Bextor went viral during the COVID-19 lockdowns when she started filming weekly kitchen discos live from her home with her family amidst a mixture of lovable chaos – incidentally, I discovered this morning that Sophie has five sons. So I think that word chaos does sound quite apt.

And you have two boys. I mean, I'm sure they, you know, they keep you busy enough.

Andy: Yes. But five is that's, that's a whole different gravy to say. Absolutely.

Emily: But these kitchen discos became a means a virtual escapism for many people who were stuck at home sequin catharsis for the. Thousands of people who tuned in, uh, and so on Tuesday, the 16th of November, Sophie began a 24 hour solo disco challenge to raise money for children's charities around the UK, which was filmed by the BBC dancing for 24 hours.

Sounds like no mean feat to me. Um, the pop sensation managed to keep her spirits up throughout the night, but she hits a wall for the first time as she entered. The final hour for the first time, 23 hours in that's just insane. One who would know probably more about hitting walls, having done your amazing marathon.

Um, do you think that's unrealistic hitting a wall 20, 23 hours into it?

Andy: Well, I mean, having looked at some of the footage, I guess she's being fairly, should we say economical in her movements when she was dancing. I mean, obviously she is moving and, uh, I can't imagine doing it for that long. In fact, I've probably can think of no worse thing than having to dance on camera for millions of people for 24 hours solid.

That's my idea of total hell, but, um, but going 23 hours before she hit the wall, that is pretty impressive. I mean, I can only imagine that the kind of mum strength that she's got from having raised five boys somehow managed to get her through. 

Emily: A massive congratulations to her. Sophie joked, before she started: "If it kills me, it will be murder on the dance floor. And I don't like the idea of that headline writing itself." 

So yes, so far raised more than 800,000 pounds for children. Who knows by the time this goes out on Friday, that total, it might have ticked up even further, but I think a phenomenal effort. So big congratulations there to Sophia. Very good.

Andy: On a totally different subject, we've got we're back to the subject of toilets/ Last time we were together, we were talking about the gents who spent five days in a portaloo. Now we've got toilet seats.

WaterAid has teamed up with a bunch of celebrities to get them to create their own luxury toilet seat as part of a campaign to raise awareness of the fact that there are 800 children dying every day from diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation.

So what they've done is they've got a bunch of celebrities, including Boy George, Harry Hale, Damon Xandra rose, and lots of other artists who slightly to my shame, some of which I don't actually know their names, but, and they have all designed their luxury, toilet seats and the images of.

That we have seen, although of course you can't see them on the podcast, but they are pretty spectacular. So they're worth having a look. Harry Hill has designed what he calls a lucky toilet seat, which lists the things that this apparently special seats can protect you from, which includes ghosts and junk mail.

Oh, very good. I'm not quite sure how that works. He says, he says that the idea of toilets being lucky comes from the fact that. People who live in countries like ours are lucky to have their own toilet seat to use because of course, hundreds of millions of people around the world do not have that.

And also the singer and DJ Boy George, who has come up with his toilet seat, which is, well, it has the phrase, peace and love emblazoned around the seat itself.

Although the word peace has been changed for something more to do with toiletry functions and. Obviously can't use on a family friendly podcast, such as ours, but the seats themselves have all been photographed by the, um, legendary photographer Rankin. You can find all the MPTs on the WaterAid website.

It's all to do with world toilet day. He being held on the 19th of November. Absolutely. And I'll try and get a few pictures of those fancy Lucy it's into the show notes for the podcast as well. Firstly, I just, just been really struck by the idea of someone giving you junk mail while you're sitting on the loo.

I mean, I can't say as anything I've ever experienced, but if there are people who did go through that, that's an enormously inconvenience. So a Lucy that guards against that probably a really handy thing to have. Definitely. Yeah, that sounds like a great.

Well, we'll be back with another episode soon. So make sure you subscribe to this, the third sector podcast on your favorite podcast app to be the first to know about it

Emily: Until then, I'm Emily Burt and I am Andy Ricketts. Thank you to our guests, Kathy Evans and James Watson-O'Neill our producer Lindsay Riley at rethink audio, and we will see you next week.

Cheerio.


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