To state the screamingly obvious, a charity is entirely useless if it cannot attract the funds it needs to keep going. The best intentions in the world aren't worth a light if the phone gets cut off and the landlord issues an eviction order.
So we spend much of our time filling in forms. Tell us what you do in no more than 300 words..... Provide evidence of partnership working in less than 1000 characters.... Does your organisation have an equality policy.....?
Boxes to tick and evidence to provide and jargon is absolutely mandatory. In the days when the New Labour bandwagon appeared to be an unstoppable juggernaut, these forms used to be a complete nightmare. One wrongly chosen piece of jargon in the midst of fifty pages of the very opposite to the Queen's English would guarantee yet another failure. Those were the days when the big charities splashed the cash on full time lobbyists to hang out in the Parliament tea rooms to whisper in the ears of junior ministers. The big guys wanted to make sure the big wigs set the funding bar way too high for any pesky little charity like First Base to reach. Those were the days when you had to talk with passion about having filing cabinets filled with policies covering everything under the sun.
One epic day I took a twenty quid return Ryannair flight to London with a fellow small charity manager. Were were headed for a one day conference designed to spell out how the little guy might extract a few quid from the bland suited minions who guarded the treasure chests of New Labour. I won't name the organisation who were the hosts for the day. Of course they had fancy offices with the kind of postcode usually only available to Russian oligarchs or Mafia guys on the run. They had taken great care to make sure anyone walking through their front door felt like they were walking into the home an up and coming hedge fund. It was all vibrant colours and uncomfortable arty furniture and mission statements on the walls. An ethnic themed carpet took us all the way to the carefully positioned reception desk which no doubt had been put in place after close consultation with a Feng Shui consultant.
And then there was the guy behind the desk waiting for us with a beaming smile dripping with inclusiveness. Oh my, where to begin! OK. Here goes. He was a man in women's clothing. Very flamboyant women's clothing. His skin colour and accent hinted at somewhere in the Middle East. His hair was a veritable rainbow of colours. His huge ear ring and Larry Grayson voice announced to the world how proud he was to be gay.
And to cap it all he was in a wheelchair.
Basically he was living, breathing evidence of this fine organisation's commitment to equality and general right on-ness and all things New Labour. How the hell we kept a straight face I will never know. Both of us were men of the North who cut our teeth in the rainy valleys of the East Lancastrian cotton towns. You don't tend to grow up politically correct in these places. Does your organisation have an up to date policy to train all of your staff and volunteers on how to interact with a transvestite, disabled, gay, asylum seeking person of colour?
Yeah mate. Course we have....
Can we see please.....
The big corporate charities loved all of this stuff. Of course they did. They had whole rooms filled with filing cabinets filled with policies on everything imaginable. Here is where they saw the way forward. If only they could persuade the New Labour chiefs to only splash the cash on outfits who had thoroughly trained their staff and volunteers on how to properly interface with the likes of the lad behind the reception desk. This of course was designed to squeeze little charities like ours right out of the funding equation.
Those were great days indeed for the 'uber' charities with the fancy London HQ's. Chief Execs awarded themselves six figure salaries and pension pots to rival the public sector. Those were the great days when you could attend a meeting every day where the buffet was fit for a Roman Emperor. If you had the right kind of jargon and a willingness to lie through your teeth, the money would be delivered by the truckload. On the flip side, basic places like First Base found it hard to raise the price of a cup of tea.
But everything changed the day those bemused Lehman Brothers traders found themselves out on the pavement clutching their cardboard boxes. Austerity has put paid to all of the jollies and the trainloads of public cash. In these very different times, having a perfectly penned policy on how to interact with a disabled, gay asylum seeking lad from Mosul will basically get you nowhere.
The 'uber' charities have been forced to move on. Now they take advantage of government schemes which dole out cash for job creation. How? Surely you must have noticed an upsurge in the number of tele sales calls you get urging you to pay a fiver month to some charity or another? Or door knockers on the same sort of gig? These are poor sods who have been press ganged by the Job Centre to take a job with one of the 'uber' charities who have been paid a few grand's worth of tax payer's cash to create soul destroying pretend jobs for people whose souls have already been pretty well destroyed.
We have never gone in for this kind of thing at First Base. Our walls are all peeling and the heating struggles when winter comes along. Our equality policy is the same as it has been for the last ten years. Anyone who walks up the stairs to the first floor passes under a giant poster of Dr Martin Luther King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Every word of his 'I have a dream' speech is there in black and white. We reckon if we follow those words we won't go so very far wrong.
And so we do like we always do. We treat people like human beings. With respect and manners. We don't judge and we don't means test. We don't pretend to have all the answers and we don't speak to people whose lives have turned to shit like they were five years old. Why on earth would we? And then we try to tell their stories as best as we can and wherever we can.
As the endless cash of the New Labour pipe dream becomes an increasingly distant memory, many of the charities who relied on it for their life blood have disappeared. Because the only way forward now is to seek the support of the local community and the local community tends to have little time for fancy offices in London and chief execs with second homes in Cornwall. The local community appreciates a more basic approach where people who need some help can get some help without being made to feel like they are pathetic and useless.
Knowing what jargon to use in a fifty page application form gets you nowhere with the local community. Instead, doing the basic hard yards tends to count for everything.
A couple of months ago we took to the social media to ask for some help with a £20,000 funding shortfall. It was the wing and prayer approach to fundraising and there was no mention of policies on interfacing with disabled, gay, asylum seeking transvestites from Mosul for the simple reason that interfacing with any such individual is well covered by the words of Dr King. They're human beings, right? So treat them like human beings. It ain't rocket science. Duh.
The response to our plea for help has been overwhelming. The local community gave us what we asked for and our short term future is now secure. The open hearted generosity we have been shown has been truly moving and humbling.
This week we are receiving three chunks of cash which I like to think offer proof positive that we must be doing something right. Poles apart doesn't even begin to describe the three donors. They come from different worlds. But we all live in the same world, right? Same sun, same moon. It is a world where people's lives can go down the pan in the blink of an eye and all of a sudden they can't afford the price of a tin of beans.
OK. I will tell. A few weeks ago I received a call out of the blue from a guy called James. James is a banker who heads up an outfit called RM Capital who trade our of the finery of Edinburgh's Melville crescent. After the call I took a tour through their website to try and work out what it is they do. Search me! They deal with big chunks of cash which goes under the all kinds of weird and wonderful names. You know the kind of thing. Hands up anyone out there who has the first clue about what Quantative Easing actually is. One hand probably. James's hand!
James told me they reckoned the time was right for their young business to try and give something back. Well he had read my blog and reckoned we might be the right kind of home for their generosity. He explained they were not in the Goldman Sachs league. They wanted their money to go to the local front line where it would make a genuine and marked difference. Thankfully I was able to promise First Base was exactly such a place. Yesterday they transferred £5000 into our account.
Tomorrow I have a twelve o clock photo call. The snapper from the local paper is coming in to take a picture of Nicola handing over a cheque to First Base for over £3000. Who is Nicola? And why?
Nicola's story is beyond harrowing. I met her a few years ago when we were doing our best to help her son James. James was a gentle giant to had served his country magnificently in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was a Scottish warrior of the old school. Quiet, polite, and one of the most fundamentally decent human beings it has been my honour to know. His brain was all twisted and bent by the sights and sounds of the worst of human indecency. The close up horrors of what happens to a human body when modern weaponry is deployed. James left the army with a glowing report. They told him he had served with distinction. They told him he had done a superb professional job under the most brutal of circumstances. They told him he should be proud of himself. They told him he was a hero.
But when he attended his appointment at the Job Centre, they didn't tell him he was a hero. They treated him like a Ned. Like a Schemie. Like nothing. Like scum. And when he attended his appointment with the housing people they told him he was worth no points. No priority. No nothing.
Thankfully we were able to help out. We got the support of local politicians of all colours and within months he had a house and furniture and a job. But every time I spent time with James he quizzed me about what we were doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. And why? And was what we were doing right? And was what he had done right? And providing those kind of answers isn't the same as helping to find a house. The guilt was eating him from the inside out. Through the long empty hours of the night. Through the long walks in the Scottish rain. Through the grueling sessions on the weight bench. And in the end the guilt won and James took his own life.
It was one of my very blackest days. It was when I got to know James's mum Nicola and his sister Marley. It was when I felt as completely useless as I have ever felt in my whole life. It seemed like half the town turned out for his funeral.
Time passed and wounds barely healed. James was a big lad who left a huge hole. And then one day my phone rang and Nicola was on the other end telling me news so bad it was incomprehensible. Marley had followed James. Marley was gone. Marley had found the prospect of life as unbearable as her brother.
And I felt even more useless and for a while wondered if I should keep on doing what I do. After all, the whole point of First Base is to stop these kind of nightmares from coming to life.
I didn't stop. And unbelievably Nicola found the kind of strength I cannot really comprehend. She took on Marley's two young kids and found a way to carry on. And now she has been out and about fundraising and tomorrow she will be handing us a cheque for £3000 to do our best for all the other James's and all the other Marley's who might come through our door.
The word humbling doesn't begin to come close.
And then came news of another chunk of cash headed our way. Just over £200 from a local grime outfit who go by the name of 'Boyz From Da Border'. Scottish Grime is a million mile an hour version of HipHop where the dumped on generation vents its fury on us Baby Boomers for giving loathsome support to Better Together, Brexit and Trump. I can't abide the music but I couldn't agree more with the sentiment behind it. Hold the front page. Young people arrange a fund raising gig for the local foodbank. Not exactly what they say in the Daily Mail, is it? Well they did it and bloody good on them and it raises a truly tantalising possibility...... it kind of looks like First Base might well be 'down with the kids.' Bloody hell.
So. Three chunks of funding from three completely different sources. You really couldn't get any more different. And you know what? We didn't ask for any of it. We filled in no forms and we ticked no boxes. This was money given from people who can see the money is needed. The fact that these good people have decided First Base is a trusted home makes all of us feel truly honoured.
Truly, truly honoured.
So thanks guys.