I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Our local Council are kicking off a pretty interesting experiment this month. They have allocated £240,000 for local projects who are trying to tackle poverty.

So. OK. There's nothing particularly new in this of course. And as the region's main food bank we have obviously thrown our hat in the ring.

To start with the process of putting our name forward was pretty routine. An online application form with all the usual the questions. Who are you? How are you governed? What do you do? What do you hope to do? Where will you do it? How much is it going to cost?

Answering such questions is meat and potatoes for any front line charity in the world. And to be honest, most of the time it pretty much sucks. We all do our best to make a difference as the tide of poverty inexorably rises. We have a whole bunch of brilliant volunteers who give up their time and energy for a simple reason - they want to make a difference. They want to make things better for the people in their community who have drawn the shortest of short straws. You can maybe imagine how hard it is to encapsulate all of this into a digital box where you are told in no uncertain terms not use more than 200 words. Or else.

And once you have done your level best to paint a picture of what you do, a decision on whether or not you are worth funding is made purely on the basis of the 200 or so words you have squeezed into the digital box.

At First Base we get lucky about one time in six. Is it frustrating? You bet it's frustrating. It makes you want to smack your head against the wall.

Well, to their great credit, our Council have acknowledged this and they have changed things up. They will not be making the decision as to which projects will be chosen to try to stem the rising tide of local poverty. All the Council are doing is checking applications met the required criteria.

And the final decision? Well they are leaving that to the people. To you. To us. To the community. Dumfries and Galloway are going all Scandinavian and passing some power down to the people.

So how is it going to work? Quite simply, actually. Over the next month there will be four public meetings held across the region. The likes of ourselves will be given a table to lay out our wares and the doors will be opened to the public at 11 am. For four hours we will get the chance to try and persuade people we will make a genuine impact on local poverty and then the members of the public who come along get the chance to vote. The doors close at 3 pm.

These are the three meetings we will be attending.








So now I guess you can see where I am coming from in the title of this blog! We really hope you might be willing to spare an hour so to come along and hopefully reward us with your vote. Right now I am viewing this new Council idea with great positivity. I guess it might be hard to feel the same if we wind up pitching our heads off and not getting any votes. 

However, if we fail to win enough support for our applications to be successful, well it will be much easier to live with than being rejected by some faceless group of people playing God on the basis of 200 words in a digital box.

OK. I now need to say what we plan to do if we are successful.

Right now our emergency food parcels are available to collect from a network of 24 'pick up' points spread all the way across the region from Langholm to Castle Douglas. By the end of this week this list will have grown to 26 once the customer service centres in Eastriggs and Lochmaban receive their first deliveries.

A couple of months ago we received funding from the Scottish Government to also provide emergency sanitary ware. 

If we manage to persuade to persuade the public to vote for us at the coming events, we will be able to provide important extra support.

1. We will make sure all our collection points carry a supply of emergency dog and cat food. This is more important than you might think. All too often people will feed their pets before they feed themselves when they find themselves in crisis.

2. We will make sure all our collection points carry a supply of basic toiletry bags - soap, shampoo, toothbrush and paste, deodorant, a face cloth, a razor and gel.

3. The big one. We will extend our 'Donald Fund' across the whole region. Some background is needed here. In December 2016, I met a guy at the counter who had just been had all his benefits sanctioned for three months. He was struggling with pretty much everything. It was clear to me in a matter of minutes he had severe learning difficulties and he was in no way capable of keeping up the Job Centre's tough regime of thirty plus online job applications a week. He had run out of power and he was facing the grim prospect of eking out three winter months in the cold and dark.

I awarded him the name Donald and told his story in a blog. We set up a JustGiving page and asked if people might be willing to chip in a couple of quid to get his lights back on. Our target was £160. Over the next few days over £8000 came in and we were able to set up the 'Donald Fund' to help out others in the same dismal boat. 

The Donald Fund is available to anyone who has had the their benefits sanctioned. It is also available to anyone who for some reason is receiving no money whatsoever, usually as a result of a DWP cock up. On average we help out about 20 people a month and the average award is £25. Those we help need to bring along their Job Centre paperwork and we never hand out any cash. Instead we go along to a Paypoint and put the money straight onto the meter.

So far we have only been able to offer this service out of our main base in Dumfries. To date we have used up £6000 of our original funding. If we can win enough votes, then we will not only be able to top up the fund, we will also be able to make it available from all of our 'pick up' points across the region.

We think this will make a huge difference. We have already seen this time and again. It is impossible to overstate just how soul destroying it is to have to live in an unheated, unlit home. The days last forever. The hours last forever. The cold eats into the bones. The endless boredom is spirit crushing. No wonder some commit a crime and wait to be caught: prison comes a blessed relief.

If you are able to come along to any of the events, we will be more than happy to tell you more about our plans.

However, I need to make something clear before going any further with this. We have held long and in depth discussions and come to a pretty major decision.

No babies will be kissed. Baby kissing is a bridge to far. And if an unwillingness to kiss infants means our bid fails..... well I guess we're just going to have to live with it.


Time to wind this up. If you can spare a weekend hour to come along and vote for us, please do. And please share this around to anyone you know who might be willing to come along to help us out.

One more time...









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