A month ago our food bank was mired in crisis. Now we are more or lass out of it. This is what hapened.
On 17 September I went through what has become something of a familiar exercise. The spreadsheet exercise. Some basic mathematics care of my laptop. Money in the bank. Projected income. Projected expenditure.
And there it was. The digital hole. A great, wide, yawning digital hole. An all too familiar digital hole. £15,000 at the absolute minimum. At the most optimistic. And the worst case scenario? Christ. £20,000? Maybe more.
The sight of the digital financial hole on my screen didn't come as any kind of surprise. Of course it didn't. The hole had been opening up for months. With every rejected funding application it opened up a little more. Yawned a little deeper.
The future on the screen was a bleak future. Money enough to make it to the middle of January and then the hole. Then the unthinkable. An icy cold day in January. A hard damp wind sending empty crisp packets scuttling along Buccleuch St. A hated sign on the front door of the foodbank.
'CLOSED DUE TO LACK OF FUNDING'
Six lousy words which haunt anyone who manages a front line charity in these dismal times.
And huddled figures reading the six words and having to accept the fact that the referral letters in their pockets have become meaningless. Like Zimbabwean Dollars. No emergency food parcels today. Or tomorrow.
Six lousy words.
And the feeling of gnawing dread was hardly unfamiliar as I sat in front of the speadsheet. Oh no. Not remotely unfamiliar. It was the same gnawing feeling of dread I had known a year earlier. And the year before.
Once upon a time, if we filled in twenty funding application forms at least four of them would say 'yes' and send us a cheque. Back in the day. Back in a world yet to be thrown into an endless sea of poverty by a handful of bankers. Now filling in endless application forms is beginning to feel rather like buying up handfuls of Lottery tickets.
And so once again First Base was back in the last chance saloon. And once again there was only one show in town. One last throw of the dice.
So it was time to lay our crisis out on the table and ask the community to bail us out. To keep us going. To get us through. To make sure my computer would not have to produce a sheet of paper bearing the dreaded six words.
'CLOSED DUE TO LACK OF FUNDING'.
The moment of truth had been coming for a while. And when you ask the public to bail you out, you need to offer some kind of a hook. A year earlier I lived off one of our food parcels for a week. Yeah, I know. No exactly a great hardship. This year I had written a novel. My 25th. 'The Last Colonial War'. The tale to be published at the rate of a chapter a day on this page as well as being on sale for £4 a copy in the Amazon Kindle Store. (We get to keep £2.30 by the way. Amazon get 90p. Philip Hammond get's 80p).
17 September and time for the moment of truth. Time to send a digital begging letter out into the ether. Time to go public. Time to rattle the can and look hopeful. Time to take a drink in the last chance saloon.
It is hard to find the right words to describe the feeling of cold dread I felt as I hit the 'publish' button and launched the appeal. The public saved our bacon in the autumn of 2015. And they saved us again in the autumn of 2016.
Would the autumn of 2017 be our very own version of a bridge too far? Would the appeal fall on deaf ears this time? Was it to be three strikes and out?
It is almost impossible not to sit and stare at the e mail inbox to wait for incoming messages from 'Just Giving'.
'Someone has just made a donation to your page'.
Would they come? Or would the inbox remain undisturbed?
Well the e mails from Just Giving came. And letters dropped through the letterbox. And cheques arrived in the post.
And now a month has passed and my laptop will not be required to write those six dreaded words on a cold day in the middle of January. Well over two hundred people have made sure we will once again get the chance to fight another day.
So there is no need to type out six words. Instead I have the pleasure of typing just the one word. A simple word which I hope will properly reflect the way everyone at First Base feels.
Six letters. Not six words. Six very heartfelt letters.
Anyway. I promised you inspiration. So here's some inspiration. Here's a small respite from the hateful selfish world of Brexit and Trump.
Our local paper – The Standard – once again gave our appeal the oxygen of publicity. A local minister read the article and duly flagged it up to his Sunday morning congregation. When the service was over, he was approached by one of his flock. They had taken his words on board. And they wanted to help. They wanted to donate £3500 just so long as the church would handle everything and make sure they could be anonymous.
Which means I have absolutely no idea who you are. And your generosity staggers me. Astounds me. I really hope you are reading this. If you are, thankyou. A huge thank you.
As our online appeal ticked up towards the 50% mark, I received an e mail from an Annan based tech company called Creatomatic. They had been watching the progress of our appeal and they wanted to help. They had noticed First Base lacked a website and so they had built one for us. And would we like some help in spreading the word via Facebook? And Euan, a really good photographer they worked, with was keen to come along to take a bunch of photos for us to use as and when we needed then.
And one more thing. They committed to match any online donation we received until October 23. They committed to help to get us up to our £10,000 target by hook or by crook.
They e mailed their customers and turbocharged our campaign. Right now the total stands at £8700 and it looks like we will make it all the way. Creatomatic's spectacular generosity has attracted some coverage in the local press and getting them to accept any credit has been like pulling teeth. They have absolutely no interest in trying to leverage some positive PR out of what they have done for us. To call them 'good people' is a million miles shy of doing them justice. Well there is no obligation whatsoever for me to play ball. If you are reading this and you need a new website or some advice on social media marketing, then look them up. Creatomatic. Annan. They are bloody good at what they do and they deserve a chance of your business. Shameless advertising? Of course it is.
Are you at all inspired yet? Maybe just a little bit?
Well if you are teetering on the edge this might just get you there.
A few days into our campaign I received a letter which almost knocked me clean off my chair. The lady who penned the letter wishes to remain anonymous and has asked me describe her as a retired, 'YES' lady who is annoyed at her own generation for constantly using the ballot box to stamp on the dreams of the young. She said she had been donating food and small amounts of money to us for many years. Now for the first time in her life, a pension refund meant she was in a position 'to make a real difference'. A real difference? A few lines further and I discovered the extent of the real difference she was planning.
What an extra-ordinary way to spend such a windfall. No cruise to Barbados. No seventy inch 3D tele. None of the above. Instead she chose to help the hundreds of people in her own community who will need a foodbank this winter. Our foodbank.
What can you say? It is genuinely hard to find the right words to give this kind of generosity any kind of justice. I called round to see her and her partner a few days later in order to get Gift Aid forms signed. What a charming couple. I kept trying to say thank you and she kept telling me not to because it was a genuine privilege to be in a position to make such a difference to so many.
I know it sounds ridiculous, but her words put me in mind of a scene from Apocalypse Now where Kurtz is full of respect for his Viet Cong adversories.
“Give me ten divisions of men like that, and our problems here would be over very quickly.”
Imagine, if everyone had the same mindset of this 'retired 'YES' supporting' lady then we would indeed live in a much better and kinder country.
Yeah, yeah. Utopian nonsense. Get yourself back into the real world Frankland. Fair enough. The real world is never far away.
Well, this particular 'retired, 'YES' supporting lady certainly inspired me. I hope you feel the same. At which point I really should point out our Just Giving campaign still has another £1300 to go.
Any chance..... ?
And I should also point out Creatomatic will be matching all donations we receive until Monday 23 October.
So. I'm done. I hope this blog might in small way have restored your faith in humanity. We can do all kinds of good stuff when we put our minds to it.