On Saturday morning I poured a coffee, lit up a smoke and looked for the right words to raise enough cash to put the lights back on for a client of ours who I awarded the fictional name of Donald. Maybe you have read all about him in the blog below this one. In a nutshell he is a nice middle aged guy with some learning difficulties. He came to us with 86 days of a benefit sanction to serve out and a house lacking all heat and light. There was only cold and darkness.
86 days worth.
80 still to go.
£160 was needed to make it go away. So I asked anyone reading the blog if they might consider stumping up £2. And I did some maths. We needed 80 readers to donate £2 each and the finish line would be reached. So I did all the usual. Choose a photo. Come up with a title. Check for typos. And to be honest I put off the moment of truth. You see, the thing with the social media is that you never, ever know. Having loads of folk looking at something is a whole lot different from people actually shelling out some cash.
Eventually I told myself not to be so bloody soft and hit the publish button. In for a penny in for a hundred and sixty pounds. I anonymously stuck £2 on the page to get the ball rolling and made the conscious decision not to sit around watching the screen. So I went outside, cranked up the chainsaw and attacked the log pile whilst a buzzard carved a few lazy circles in the blue sky above.
I gave it a couple of hours and then followed the same coffee/smoke routine. I told myself if we could by some chance get anywhere close to the £160 figure I would be well and truly made up. £60 would be enough to get the lights on for Christmas and New Year. Yeah. £60 would do. £60 would be fine and dandy.
And I all but fell off my chair. And I have been falling off my chair ever since. As I write this, the JustGiving page is over £6000 and it is still going up. Check it out via the link below and don't forget to add in the Gift Aid.
What can I say? Well as a person who has written 23 novels over the last decade and a half I really should be able to say something. Bloody hell. Not exactly Leo Tolstoy but yeah, bloody hell. Bloody amazing. Bloody fantastic.
If you are one of the three hundred plus people who has made this happen then, thank you. Your collective generosity is quite extra-ordinary. Humbling. Heart warming. And yes, it really does restore the faith in human nature.
So what happens next now we have collected £6000 more than we asked for? What happens next as far as this blog is concerned is an unashamed advert for small charities and how we go about our business. Being small means you can be quick on your feet. You can react to things. And that is exactly what First Base has done. Three days ago we asked for £160 to put Donald's lights on. Well things have moved on in a big way. 72 hours after asking the question we unveiled our brand new 'Donald Fund' which did its first bit of business yesterday.
Nuts and bolts.
The Donald Fund is available to help anyone in our area of work who has been royally screwed over by our beloved Department of Work and Pensions and left completely penniless. Maybe like Donald they might have had all of their benefits sanctioned. Or maybe there has been some kind of epic cock up meaning no money for quite a while. The criteria for asking for the help of the Donald Fund are clear and simple. Bring in your DWP paperwork showing how they have screwed you over and the Fund will get your heat and light back on for the duration. The fund will cover £3 a day of power costs from October to March and £2 a day April to September. We won't be handing out any cash. Lesley will go along with the client to a Paypoint to get the money loaded up. There will be one or two who have a go at scamming us of course. There always are. Well, best of luck with that one guys! First Base has two poachers turned gamekeepers at the front desk going by the names of Iain and Lesley. They are in all respects been there, done that people. Remember what they say about trying to kid a kidder?
We are not experts in the dark labyrinthine world of the DWP so all applicants will have to come along armed with a referral from the Citizens Advice Service.
How many people will we help? Hard to tell. We will find out soon enough. My gut feeling suggests the money will be enough to see people right for a year to eighteen months. But hopefully this will only be the start of the story. The more eagle eyed among you might have noticed I have raised the target on the JustGiving page from £160 to £10,000 to reflect the new reality. As we help people case by case, we will start to build up a clear body of evidence which will prove how much the help is needed and how many people need it. Once we have this under our belt, we will have what we need to start applying to other sources for top up funds. The good news is that we will not have the begging bowl out for great fortunes. If we can twist the arms of the the Councillors on the three Area Committees where our clients live for £1000 a piece, we will be well on the way.
If my optimism is proved not to be misplaced, the Donald Fund will soon enough start to make a difference. The first difference will be felt by the poor buggers made to love in the cold and dark by the cruelty and ineptitude of the DWP. We will then be able to tell their stories through these pages and the local media. We will also be able to hand over case studies to our excellent local MSP's and MP to help them kick up a fuss in Holyrood and Westminster. We will be able to do a lot.
The way so many people have been treated since 2010 stinks like a train load of rotten fish. Shining a light on this cruelty has been hard. How are two bit charities like First Base supposed to compete with the likes of the Daily Mail and Channel 5 and the others who have used their power to make people hate and blame the poor. This wall to wall anti poor people propaganda has seemed overwhelming at times. Maybe we are slowly starting to see the tide turn. Finally there are a few in the Westminster Tory party who are stepping forward to say enough is enough. Ken Loach has once again shot the lights out with his movie 'I Daniel Blake'. His achievements really do beggar belief. Fifty years ago he gave the public a no holds barred, close up look at the misery of homelessness with 'Cathy Come Home'. Now he's done it again with 'I Daniel Blake.' In our X Factor world, 15 minutes of fame is the daily bread of the tabloid press. Ken Loach has been doing what he does for half a century. Some man.
The impact of our Donald Fund won't reach anywhere near as far as the impact of 'I Daniel Blake.' But we will punch above our weight, I can promise you that. For me, what has happened over the last three days shows how much can be done when we all start thinking of what can happen when change comes from the bottom. 350 people chose not to ignore the outrageous way a single individual was being treated by an increasingly vicious State. 350 people put a small charity called First Base in a position to start to make a difference. To punch above our weight. None of this required any permission from any kind of government. This is the great beauty of trying to make change happen from the level of the street. It can happen quickly and it can happen without rooms filled with highly paid civil servants. At a time when distant governments and faceless corporations seem to be squeezing the life out of us all, maybe the birth of our Donald Fund offers a small sliver of hope. Maybe we are not so helpless after all.
I like to think so. Don't you just love people power.