A blog written by our Trustees - Julian Hillman
February can be a sad month, fortitude tested by continuing winter, with summer still a long way off. Sad for me personally, because I have to stand down as a trustee of Hammersmith Unite Charities (HUC) after 12+ years and also because Oxfam who I have supported for over 50 years is in trouble.
Integrity for charities is vital, as is well considered risk taking and I feel confident in saying that HUC passes both tests. Some of the grants we make do not succeed, but if we took no risks we would greatly decrease our helping power and initiatives that are now massive successes would never have seen the light of day.
Mark Goldring, the Oxfam GB boss, used to work for National Mencap and I got to know him a bit. He is a man of great energy and intellect. He is apologising for what happened in Haiti and elsewhere as he should, but he is also asking whether some of the criticism is motivated by dislike of what Oxfam does. Balanced in the scales, I am sure the good done outweighs the wickedness ten thousand fold.
The charitable impulse is heart warming and strong in Muslim, Christian, other religious traditions and secular movements. It can be naive and destructive to give, but not to give shrinks the soul and destroys our humanity. The reinvention of the grant making arm of HUC during my trusteeship is something I am immensely proud of and in which I played a small part. In the past there have been those in HUC not confident that grant making is correct – “God helps those who help themselves” or “Leg up not hand out”, both reasonable sentiments in context, but allowing for the possibility of not helping those in trouble when we should.
From Hollywood through Rome, Canterbury and on to Haiti, great institutions are mired in stories of sexual exploitation and the obdurate denial thereof. However, if we closed every institution, in which some members had exploited women and children, what would we have left? While apologising again and again, Goldring is right to look at critics’ motivation.
From my work with Mencap I know that it is those least able to speak up who are most at risk of abuse. If Hollywood super stars find it hard, then think about a woman with Down’s syndrome living in a care home being able to support “#Me Too”.
Integrity is hard to prove and one can be misled by silence, smooth talking and power, “Plate sin with gold, And the strong lance of justice breaks” says the not so mad King Lear. So out of my February sadness, comes a cry for more charity, more vigilance, a positive future for Oxfam, which I will continue to support financially and the hope my successors at HUC will find even better ways of making grants and taking sensible risks to help people in Hammersmith.
18th February 2018