The Victorians gave us many wonderful gifts, none more so than philanthropy, although I’m not sure that giving the gift of giving is a gift. Stand by for Miss York to step in and correct both grammar and correctness of statement. Philanthropy was around a long time before the Victorians and has certainly outlived them – Bill Gates, John Paul Getty and William Hewlett to name three of the contemporary members of the club. The bigger picture, the greater good, the do-something-about-it attitude – I like that. I like that a lot.
It’s easy to lose sight of the more pressing and important issues while eating the latest taster menu at Pied à Terre; one such moment hit me while watching Zimbabwe’s Forgotten Children and how a 9-year-old girl was left caring for her dying mother and 1-year-old brother. When you come face to face with people who are actively doing something to help people in difficult, dire or downright impossible situations, expect to be humbled to the point of tears.
Armed with these thoughts, I proceeded to the gallery@oxo where I was lucky enough to attend the opening night of the Legacies Through a Lens photography exhibition. A highlight of Remember a Charity week, the exhibition presents a series of photographs that show how legacy donations can make a positive difference to a truly magnificent array of charities and their recipients. I found a gallery packed to the rafters and energy in the air that was infectious.
The photographs, many taken by the enthusiastic and vibrant Ed Miller, are a joy to look at; add to that the depth and emotion from the accompanying story and I dare the most stalwart gent or lady not to be affected. Ed told me that he was working to a ticking clock to complete the commission on time, but it was essential to get to know each of his subjects and to allow their characters and stories to develop both in the pictures and in his understanding of their relationships with the charities supporting them. He’s managed this with a natural style that has the perfect balance of gravitas without pushing the viewer too hard to confront the subject head on. You fall into the pictures and the pictures hug you back.
I left Ed for a tour of the gallery and between hugs I met some of the people in the photographs. It didn’t take long to realise just how much of an impact legacy donations have on fundraising, making up 25% of many charities’ voluntary donations. I started to wonder if Poppy Nicholson and Maddy, her cockapoodle, would ever have been introduced. The pair are part of an innovative pilot Team Hearing Dog scheme which the charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People initiated two years ago, placing uniquely trained dogs with deaf children. Or if Hannah James, born with a visual impairment, would have been able to take the leap of faith into a voluntary opportunity with the help of SKILL, the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities, that eventually led her to a full-time career supporting disabled students.
The final person I was lucky enough to meet was psoriatic arthritis sufferer Jan Williams. Jan was able to overcome 20 years of debilitating illness that left her unable to perform the most simple of tasks, but with the help and guidance of Arthritis Research UK and a new drug, she is now an acclaimed 1st class honours artist and her work can be seen in Cardiff School of Art and Design. “Bloody hell,” I thought, “I’m not sure I’m worthy to be in this crowd.” After jesting with Jan’s husband that I had no doubt he’ll be the subject of a series of fetching nudes that will appear in the National Gallery, I quickly moved on.
The array of charities represented here was disparate: The RNLI, Age Concern, The College of St Barnabas, Gingerbread, The Wildlife Trust, the NSPCC, The Birmingham Royal Ballet, Save the Children – there will be something or someone you care about who will directly benefit from help, specifically financial. If it’s a choice between the Argyle Street charity gauntlet (damn you chuggers) or a legacy donation at the end of my days, I think I know which I’d prefer. So why not leave a legacy donation? The kids would only blow it on the latest taster menu with some young, upstart restaurateur. By the time I’d come to this conclusion I was spent. It was time to leave.
Stepping out into the cold, wet air of the South Bank from a gallery whose attendees passions was almost overpowering startled me back to reality with a wet slap. But the night wasn’t over yet. I spotted a chap reading Three Men in a Boat on my journey home and forced an Arb card into his hand, muttering something about Jerome K Jerome being one of our founding fathers. Maybe he’s read this and is already contemplating leaving a few quid to a hard working and well deserving charity – and if so, God bless him.
You can learn more about Remember a Charity Week here: www.rememberacharity.org.uk