William Beveridge, who was fundamental to the founding of the welfare state in 1942, described charity as ‘like a golden thread through the living tapestry of our national story’. The tapestry is somewhat tattered today in the aftermath of the vote to leave the European Union, and the national story somewhat fragmented, perhaps literally if Scotland holds another referendum on independence.
So what can charities do? How do we ensure we stay the golden thread? Firstly not lose our confidence, secondly reassert our values and guiding principles, and thirdly reach out and find common ground with everyone who puts the human person at the heart of what they do, in keeping with the fundamental principles of Catholic Social Teaching.
Threatened with a world that is increasingly characterised by human misery, the tenets of our faith demand that we celebrate human goodness. Every encounter that challenges the basic premise of why we do what we do chips away at our self- belief, and demands that we admit we are at best naïve, and at worst wrong. It behoves us to reject that challenge of negativity and redouble our efforts to respond to need, and to tell the good news of lives being turned around for the better.
And yes it’s going to be rough and at times we are going to feel sick at heart, but when you are seasick, the advice is always to look at the horizon, which stays steady.
There are some interesting current conversations happening in the voluntary sector questioning whether charities are out of touch with their donors and with the people who benefit from their services. That the Brexit vote proves that perhaps we are living in a bubble, away from the realities of life for the people who are disaffected, and who feel let down by all political parties as well as the very systems put in place to support them.
I disagree with that basic assumption and find it bordering on self-indulgence. I am also struggling to see how it would play out differently whether or not it’s true. If it is true, what might we do differently at the Cardinal Hume Centre? Would we stop providing accommodation for homeless young people? Would we stop welcoming refugees and migrants? Would we give up on getting people into jobs? Would we decide there is no point in preventing a family from being evicted?
Talking to people here in the Centre including staff and volunteers who are not British passport holders, and to clients who come from over 80 different countries, I guess the best word to describe how they are feeling in this post-Brexit world, is nervous. One thing that is certain is the horrifying rise in hate crime which many people here have already encountered. Otherwise although little is going to happen for a long time, we know that 'something' will happen.
Thankfully, charities are used to living in a world of uncertainty and most have a gift for scenario planning. No matter how disturbing, this time around should be no different. Golden threads shouldn't break, no matter how much pressure is applied. We have been here before with downturns, recession, and appalling increases in poverty, exclusion and homelessness. What else can we do now except what we were set up to do? The people who come to the Cardinal Hume Centre and organisations like ours, for help and support deserve that from us. They can’t give up so neither must we. (578)
Cathy Corcoran OBE is Chief Executive of the Cardinal Hume Centre, and a Trustee of the Catholic Social Action Network | @CORCORANCathy