Heroes, for more than one day

Hilda Campbell of COPE Scotland takes time to appreciate the small charity sector as we approach Small Charity week, 19 – 23 June 2023. She reflects on the essential role played by these charities in the health and wellbeing of the nation, and the significant challenges that they face in the current cost of living crisis.

It’s important to recognise the invaluable work of staff working in the NHS, the Police, Fire and Ambulance service.  And behind the scenes, Hilda Campbell, COPE Scotland many others work away to feed us, keep us safe – ensuring the logistics of things getting from A to B, and supporting us in every aspect of day to day life.

All of these individuals help us to stay safe and well,  highlighting that we are all interdependent.

We need each other.

There are others who quietly work in communities, helping people where they are and small charity week provides an opportunity to celebrate that contribution.

Like the local store, small charities may not be known outside of the community they serve, but like that small corner store, they are an integral and essential part of those communities.

When we went into lockdown, we immediately saw small charities working with local people, finding ways to mitigate the impacts of shielding and isolation. Whether it was helping people who lived alone, delivering meals and prescriptions, doing wellbeing checks and phone calls, small charities offered support and care for people and families, working hard to ensure that no one felt abandoned.

The small charity sector like everyone else is facing budget cuts. As waiting lists for mainstream services increase,  these small organisations also face increased demand. Community focused groups face the same cost of living crisis as the people and families they serve. Doing more with less is the continual challenge, and perhaps one of the strengths of the sector is that it does keep going, against the odds. This can also be seen as a weakness – it becomes expected that these charities will continue to operate like this. The responsiveness and adaptability of small charities is then taken for granted.

Small charities are front facing; they sit alongside and see first-hand the issues that communities face every day. Their expertise and connections are often not recognised or valued enough in local or national decision making and policies.

And for those who manage small charities  – the people who wear many hats including the strategy and operation of their organisation whilst being there for the communities they serve, supporting and maintaining staff and volunteers is critical.  Managers do this often with little or no support, apart from their peers.

Small charities do not have the budgets for management, administration and communications and yet, they find a way to do it all.

A strength of the small charity sector is the support it has from local communities. In turn, people and families may invest significant time in local charities through volunteering. Without this commitment, many small charities could not survive. Another strength of these adaptable organisations is their ability to network and share and support each other. This is where organisations like GCVS in Glasgow can be helpful in building these networks, and providing practical advice and training.

It is nice to feel appreciated. At a time when we hear of the challenges faced by statutory health and care services, spare a thought for the small charity sector, like the Dutch boy who saves his country by putting his finger in a leaking dike (Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates: A Story of Life in Holland.1865). The small charity sector plug the gaps in so many statutory services. Often quietly, with no recognition and yet, if they were gone………

During Small Charity Week, let’s appreciate the many unsung heroes helping to keep communities afloat in this current sea of troubles.  While secure funding would be nice, starting with a genuine ‘thank you’ perhaps will help lead to conversations which properly recognise the huge contribution of small charities, and lead to effective plans to help them keep going.

If we think of Dunkirk, it was small boats which brought people home. Maybe it is that Dunkirk Spirit that keeps small charities motivated not to give up. The small charity sector will never willingly leave someone standing on the shore. During small charity week, think what can you do in whatever role you have to help.

And, if you work in a small charity, know that in this world of challenges and problems for our fellow citizens, you are part of the solution and know that what you do matters. Thank you.


To watch a recording of the session on wellbeing for managers and leaders within the small charity sector, please follow this link 


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