Telling Charity Histories

The National Archives and the Pilgrim Trust launched Archives Revealed last month, a new programme of grant funding for organisations including charities to scope archiving projects and create new collections. So I thought I’d share some charity histories that I’ve found over the past few weeks.

Charity histories are important because they tell our stories in their own right, but they also tell our stories as part of the fabric of society – how do we fit into the grand narrative of the welfare state? How have we changed as society has changed? How do we respond to crises and opportunities in the communities we serve?

Our stories also tell us something about how we see ourselves. Some make use of extensive archives. Others present a particular face or image. They are written for a purpose; researchers should be alive to whether some bits are emphasised or downplayed, and how they exist in a wider context – the narrative of our collective sector.

We need more stories – big and small, national and local, from all types of organisations. There are all kinds of records in the back of filing cabinets, in people’s attics or buried in hard drives, waiting for someone with the time or motivation to go through them all. Archives, national or local, might be interested in your records (and researchers like me always are), or you might want to tell your own story. Charlotte Clements, Georgina Brewis and the Charity Finance Group have produced some great resources that can help you to both think about cataloguing and archiving, and to improve your record keeping overall – find them at Voluntary Sector Archives. The new funding from Archives Revealed could be the perfect opportunity to get started, if you’ve got the right project.

In the meantime, I’ve been searching out (mostly late 20th century) charity histories for a project, so I thought I’d share them here. I’ll keep updating the list as I find more, and do send me yours if I’ve missed it!

Action Aid Action Aid has a brief history on its website; it was founded in 1972 by businessman Cecil Jackson-Cole.
Addaction Addaction was set up in 1967 after Mollie Craven, who was caring for her son, wrote to the Guardian calling for people with lived experience to come together. The Guardian has the original letter, linked to here.
Carers UK Carers UK was founded as the National Council for the Single Woman and Her Dependents by Rev. Mary Webster in 1965.
Charity Finance Group CFG started in 1987 – here’s a timeline of its history and achievements.
Child Poverty Action Group CPAG has published a report by Pat Thane and Ruth Davidson about their 50 year history. They also have a timeline on their website, including images of archival material.
Crisis Crisis was started by Bill Shearman, a Conservative activist, who used his political connections to gain cross-party support for the campaign. The Crisis website has a full timeline of its history.
FPA The Family Planning Association (full disclosure – I’m a trustee) was set up in 1930. The website includes their history in two parts, and the organisation’s archives are in the Wellcome Trust.
Friends of the Earth Their first campaign involved dumping thousands of empties at Schweppes HQ. FoE’s website includes a 45 year timeline of the UK organisation.
Friends of the Earth Birmingham This local branch is running a project documenting its 40 year history, tweeting stories and archival material.
Greenpeace Greenpeace’s history includes the history of the global movement as well as the UK campaign, started in 1977.
Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants JCWI was founded in 1967. Its 2016-17 annual report includes a celebration of its 50 year history.
Motor Neurone Disease Association Set up in 1979 by a group of people with lived experience of the disease. This PDF provides a brief history.
NACRO Crime and social justice charity NACRO celebrated its 50th birthday in 2016. Its website includes a timeline of its history.
Oxfam Oxfam has a timeline of its history since its beginnings in 1942.
Parkinson’s UK Parkinson’s UK was founded as the Parkinson’s Disease Society in 1969. It has a timeline of its history and research progress on its website.
Rethink Founded in 1970 as the National Schizophrenia Fellowship, Rethink’s website includes the original letter to the Times from John Pringle, who was living with the condition.
Runnymede Trust Runnymede Trust has an oral history project documenting its history in the context of the struggle for race equality between 1968-1988 (nb some links are broken)
Shelter Shelter, formed in 1965, has a dedicated mini-site celebrating its 50th birthday.
Stonewall Stonewall was set up in 1989 – there’s a history of the organisation and its place in the fight for LGBT equality.
Toynbee Hall Toynbee Hall was the original Settlement in the UK, established by Canon Samuel Barnett in 1884. Eleanor Sier (@trulynella) also shares archive finds on twitter.
Victim Support The first Victim Support scheme was set up in Bristol in 1974. The website provides a brief timeline.
Women’s Aid Established as the National Women’s Aid Federation in 1974. The website includes a timeline of its history.
Royal Voluntary Service RVS has an extensive archives project. It also tweets material at @RVSarchives.
Muslim Aid Muslim Aid was founded in 1985 by community leaders from 17 Islamic organisations in response to the humanitarian crisis in Africa. The website includes a brief overview of the organisation’s history.
Big Issue Foundation The Big Issue Foundation was founded by Gordon Roddick and John Bird in 1991, in response to concerns about increasing levels of rough sleeping. The website states: ‘The two believed that the key to solving the problem of homelessness lay in helping people to help themselves.’
Leonard Cheshire The disability charity was founded in 1948. Its mini-site, ‘Rewind’, features over 600 digitised items from its archive, focussing in particular on the history of its early ‘Cheshire Homes’.
Disabled Living This Manchester-based Charity was formed in 1897 as the Band of Kindness and Children’s Help Society, to encourage children to be kind to animals and in turn their fellow citizens. It evolved into a charity supported disabled children,
and now provides information, advice and support around aids, appliances and equipment for disabled people of all ages.

On why I’m a trustee (and why you should be too)

Every once in a while, when I mention that I’m a trustee, someone will say to me “Oh I’ve always wanted to do that. I think it’s something I’ll do later in my career, when I’ve got the experience.” I’m here to tell you to do it now – because you’ve got what you need, and you have no idea how much more you’ll get out of it.

I’ve been a trustee sporadically since I was 18, first for Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE), then for Croft House Settlement, a community centre in Sheffield (old blog here), and now for the Family Planning Association (FPA). Each role has been completely different, and has taught me something new about myself, my skills and how to run a charity. Each one had given me the chance to be a part of something I am passionate about. So here’s what I’ve learnt.

I really like spreadsheets

Full disclosure: I got a D in maths (sorry again, Mr Rome). I didn’t really expect to like the numbers side of being a trustee. At CRAE I got my first sight of charity accounts, and got the support from staff to understand them. I quickly learnt that I enjoy the kind of attention to detail and process involved in accounts scrutiny (read: am a massive nerd).

I also learnt that I don’t have to be an actual accountant. The boards I’ve been on have had other lovely trustees who are financial experts, and staff who take the time to explain the trickier technical detail to me in a way I can understand – and could explain to others if I were asked. I need to be confident that we have clear and robust accounts, we’re working to build our income base and we’re spending our money wisely. To do that I need to take time to read, be confident to ask questions and be mindful of our mission. I don’t need to be an accountancy whizz. Being a trustee is a team game; you’ll have skills and knowledge that a board needs, whether it’s fundraising and finance, strategy and campaigning or a fresh perspective, passion and lived experience. Your skills will be balanced by all those other people’s, and you’ll help each other to pick up more along the way.

I’m passionate about the causes I support – and I can show that off

There is a lot of focus on compliance, fraud, finance and other important technical things in the press about trustees, and rightly so. But I think that can sometimes mask the role a trustee can have in promoting and celebrating the work of their charity. This is such important work, for me, and it’s also I think the stuff that attracts people to this kind of role, so we shouldn’t downplay it.  It seems kind of obvious to say I’m passionate about the things I support, but I think it’s an important first step when you’re looking for opportunities – the right one will be one you really truly care about, and that will make you a better trustee.

I’ve learnt over the years that I can support these charities well just through social media, whether that means helping a community space with its own online presence, or just being vocal about how great FPA is and how important its campaigns are. Recently I’ve also been lucky enough to attend lots of FPA events; I’m so grateful for the team for letting me come along because it gives me an opportunity to see their great work first hand, and to be a part of the movement as well. If you’re passionate about a cause and want to support a great charity in that field, then being a trustee is a great role. It means making sure the charity is in a healthy state, but it also means getting involved, throwing yourself into opportunities and representing where you can.

I’m constantly learning

There’s a great set of top tips here from existing trustees, a lot of which focus on asking questions. This can be really hard when you’re new and you think you don’t know anything, but trust me, you do, and you’ll know a lot more if you ask. Trustees and staff should take responsibility for making sure people new to the role have the right support and information to understand what’s going on, and the tools to contribute fully to the role.

One of Leon Ward’s tips is that it can take a year to really get to know a board, and I think this is absolutely right. My time at Croft House was cut short because I had to leave Sheffield, which was a shame, because after a year of hard strategy work I felt like we were really at the start of something great – but again, my fab fellow trustees were there to carry that all forward, with their own expertise and passion. That role taught me about thinking strategically and looking creatively for opportunities. My previous role at CRAE, alongside the spreadsheet thing, taught me about the importance of involving beneficiaries and supporting them appropriately. In my current role I’m building on my skills and interests and developing new ones too. This, incidentally, also makes me a better charity worker, because it helps me to think about the bigger picture, strategic relationships and competing priorities.

You don’t have to know everything there is to know about governance and strategic leadership, and you don’t have to have worked in the sector (or anywhere) for 30 years to qualify you as a trustee, because being a trustee is so much more than that. It’s an opportunity to be part of a movement, to identify and develop your skills and experience and to bring your own creativity, passion or strategic vision to the table. So, if you’ve ever thought “maybe I could” – do it!

New Year’s Resolution no. 2: making a mark as a trustee

One of the best things I’ve done this year is become a trustee of a charity. I’ve been a trustee before, many years ago for Children’s Rights Alliance for England, which was a great experience and helped me learn about what’s involved in running an organisation. But that was a very different organisation and a very different situation. My current trustee role is offering challenges and opportunities that I couldn’t get anywhere else. The next step for me is to do something amazing with that.

I’m a trustee of Croft House Settlement, a community venue with a long history and a small turnover. I was attracted to it first because I’m a voluntary action history nerd; the settlement movement in the late 19th and early 20th century brought services into poor communities to tackle poverty and offer education and support to those who would otherwise struggle to get it. Toynbee Hall is one of the most famous and is still running fantastic services today. The movement is rooted in Christian philanthropy, and Croft House was established in 1902 by the Rev. William Blackshaw in an area of poor housing and poverty in Sheffield. After a period of decline, it was resurrected in the late 1980s by a marching band looking for a new home, and has been home to it and a range of other dance, music and theatre groups ever since.

The existing trustee board was looking for a refresh and reached out through Do-It for anyone interested. It got the kind of shock that it wanted; a group of new trustees that brought a different age and gender demographic to the group, that had new ideas and different perspectives to contribute and that could (and fully intend to) help to develop and improve Croft House Settlement, whilst respecting its history and its existing dedicated user group. Already we’ve set out plans for developing a full strategy based on three overarching areas; the building, the branding and the community. These will link together to make crucial improvements to the physical space, some parts of which are in desperate need of refurbishment, to listen to and make the most of service users, creating and embedding a real community, and getting the message out to new organisations and customers, boosting business and helping financial sustainability.

My interest is in the community. In taking the time to examine what I like and what I’m good at during my year as a Charityworks Graduate Trainee, I realised that what I really enjoy is building links between different people and different organisations, and creating something – an idea, a service, a space – that they can really buy into. Listening to existing users is key to this, for me; the service users of Croft House Settlement will be able to explain what they like (and what they dislike) about the place than I ever can, because they use it, week in, week out. It’s as simple as that. They have to be a key part in making it better, and in bringing more people in. Using those existing networks, I hope, will be a great way of bringing in new communities and customers.

So, the New Year’s Resolution beneath all of this involves developing some new skills for myself as well as being a part of developing a whole organisation. I want the building to get the investment it deserves. I want it to have a solid strategy for organisational development in place. And I want it to embody a sense of community; be guided by it, and make the most of it as an asset. My resolution is to be a part of making all of this happen.

Resolution no. 1: supporting equality in football

This blog is part of my New Year’s Resolution series. More to come…

Trigger Warning: Discussion of misogyny, rape and racism.

As a football supporter, this year has been an interesting and difficult one for me. In the first of my ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ I talk about losing faith with the teams I followed, and finding it in equality-based football.

I remember the first ever football match I went to; Sheffield United versus Leicester, at Bramall Lane, with my Grandpa and Uncle Duncan. We won, but Leicester had already secured promotion to the league above, and four-year-old-me thought this was deeply unfair.

I remember the best football match I’ve ever been to; Celtic versus Barcelona, Champions League group stages, 2012, Celtic Park, with my one of my best friends, Liam. It was the 125th anniversary game. Celtic won. I have never experienced anything like it before or since.

These are teams that I have loved – Celtic since I adopted them and the City of Glasgow 6 years ago, Sheffield United since I first knew what football was. And these are both teams that in the past year I have decided to leave behind.

This story sits with three players; Lee Griffiths and Aleksandar Tonev of Celtic, and Ched Evans, formerly of Sheffield United. Griffiths and Tonev have both been pulled up for racist language and behaviour in the past year. In Griffiths’ case, he was caught on video being racist. Celtic did nothing. Tonev was accused of using racist language towards Shay Logan, and was punished by the Scottish Football Association for doing so with a 7-game ban. Celtic appealed the case, repeatedly refuted the accusation, and, at when the appeal collapsed this week, said that they would continue to give him his full support despite the judgement that, on the balance of probabilities, he had been racist (this article from BBC Scotland’s Tom Evans discusses why Celtic’s position is problematic better than I can). Ched Evans, in a case covered heavily by the English press, was convicted of rape and secured early release this October. After months of silence, Sheffield United released a statement saying that Evans would return to training with the club, then swiftly changed their minds as high-profile board members expressed their disappointment. 

I believe that these clubs have a responsibility to all of their fans, including those of all different genders, ethnicities, sexualities and religious beliefs. I believe that a club has a responsibility to set an example and hold all of its players to a standard, regardless of how popular they are or how many goals they score. I believe that they have chosen to disregard this responsibility. Neil Lennon, former Celtic manager, said in 2012 that any form of racism is “an instant sackable offence” at his club. These words seem increasingly empty. Hearing stories of fans chanting “he’s Ched Evans and he does what he likes” does not give me any confidence that Bramall Lane is a safe and inclusive space for women. Neither does the “fan” reaction to Jess Ennis’ and Charlie Webster’s opposition to letting Evans train with the team. And, finally, neither does Sheffield United’s petulant statement after it was forced into a u-turn by the level of press attention. The club’s attitude and approach sets the tone for the team and the support. If discriminatory, harmful and violent behaviour is accepted at the top, then it is deemed acceptable at every level.

So, what options are there for a football fan looking for a new club?

There are football teams in this country, and in many other countries, that campaign for and live by the rule of equality. These are the teams that I support. This year, I have had the pleasure of seeing Babelsberg 03 play near Berlin, visiting the St. Pauli ground in Hamburgh and, most recently, attending an away game in the middle of nowhere with Clapton FC, an East London anti-fascist team playing in the Essex Senior League. At this last match, I was flying the flag for my other adopted Scottish team, United Glasgow, along with two other supporters (one of whom plays for the women’s team). I am proud to support United Glasgow, because I can see the difference that it makes. It lives and breathes its equalities ethos. It has grown beyond its original purpose as a semi-regular football club for refugees, asylum seekers and those excluded for financial or other reasons who want to play football, and now brings people from all kinds of backgrounds together on common ground, promoting better understanding of issues faced and shared by different communities. The Men’s 11s are currently fourth in the Scottish Unity League, and the Women’s 5s team have just been confirmed as champions of their league for the second year in a row. 

Playing and following sport can be a powerful tool in bringing people together, but only if clubs really embrace an ethos of anti-discrimination. It is commendable and good to fly a flag for anti-racism, anti-homophobia, anti-sexism and so on, but clubs need to fly these flags all the time, rather than when it is convenient, or when it does not harm profits.

So, resolution number 1 for the New Year: to campaign for equality in and through football (and hopefully other sports as well). My actions include:

What will you do?

The Local Authority: That’s all folks? A call for evidence

This is one of the most common messages I hear when I’m out and about from local infrastructure organisations (LIOs), such as Councils for Voluntary Service (CVS):

 We’ve lost funding from the local authority already. Were expecting to lose a lot more.

 Here’s why:

This is the so-called local government Graph of Doom (a term coined by Barnet Council), which shows that whilst the cost of adult social care is rising, overall budgets are falling. This means that the pot of ‘money for everything else’ – culture, leisure, voluntary sector services, and any other ‘added value’ activity – is getting ever smaller. This graph is starting to become a bit of a cliché, but an important one, as its message is repeated across the country by voluntary and public sector officials alike.

In my capacity as Charityworks Graduate Trainee, although with obvious links to my work with NAVCA, I am currently researching and writing a report about the impact of these cuts on LIOs around the country. There has been much good work done by NCVO and others on mapping current and predicting future cuts. I want to use this information together with income data breakdowns showing grants and contracts from statutory sources, lifted from LIO annual reports, to say something about the financial reality over the past few years.

But alongside this, I want to put out a call to you, dear readers, for your stories. From my visits and interviews, not to mention my analysis of the Transforming Local Infrastructure programme for NAVCA, I’m already aware that there is a huge amount of variation across the country. Some have already lost all local authority funding, others have been able to secure funding agreements for the next few years, and more still are bracing themselves for punitive future budgets. I’m also aware that much has been done to build relationships in other areas, such as health, housing, and with private sector partners. I have also heard examples of successful work to redefine relationships with local authorities, and I am sure there are more.

So whether you’re fearing cuts or have already been through them, or are responsible for making them, if you’ve been successful in finding alternative income sources or are struggling with sustainability, if you’re from an LIO, a local authority or another voluntary and community organisation, I want to hear from you. What are your expectations? What are your solutions? And, ultimately, why are these changes important (if, indeed, they are)?

You can get in touch here through the comments section, or over email (, and I will,of course, respect any requests for anonymity. You can even tweet your key messages to @elmunro, with the hashtag #LIOfuture, if you’re that way inclined. This will be a crucial issue for many of you, and I want my research to be as useful as possible, so get in touch.