This week is Small Charity Week 2020, an annual campaign founded by the Foundation for Social Improvement celebrating the work of small charities (generally defined as those with an annual income of less than £1m, though many are much smaller than that). It is supported by other charity sector bodies and aims to improve awareness about organisations working at this scale, to ensure that they are represented politically and to encourage public giving to charities outside of the high-profile national ‘brands’. Of 183,000 registered charitable entities in England and Wales, more than 152,000 are small.
Right now with coronavirus, it is more important than ever that small charities — either those embedded in local communities, or those focusing on niche causes — are noted and protected, in order to enable them to continue to doing their good work during the crisis and beyond. This includes those focusing on work wholly unrelated coronavirus, as the social burden of this moment will be felt for years to come if countless other problems go unaddressed due to the loss of the dedicated groups tending to them.
Drawing on Charity Commission data, the website Charity Choice enables you to search charities by postcode and find out some of those operating closest to you (though the smallest ones may not have a huge web presence, having been established for a very specific purpose, in memoriam or at the hyper-local level). There are about 1,000 charities based within 1 mile of my own home in Stamford Hill, Hackney, including many communal and educational bodies for our local Orthodox Jewish population. One such organisation is Ezer Leyoldos, which cooperates closely with council social care teams and works to relieve hardship in the community through services including postnatal support, counselling and play therapy, parenting support and skills training, emotional support and short breaks for children with disabilities. The Cheer Up Squad, meanwhile, use volunteers to entertain and support vulnerable patients in hospitals across London, tackling isolation and mental ill-health. The North London M.E. Network provides a support network for people impacted by myalgic encephalomyelitis and related conditions in Hackney and the neighbouring boroughs.
Over in Woodbury Down, we find the headquarters of Arts Emergency, a mentoring charity founded in Hackney that helps marginalised young people to access higher education and creative industries, and which has come to operate further afield across London, in Manchester and in Kent. In Cazenove, the Boiler House Community Centre is a vibrant community space hosting all manner of activities in pre-COVID times (and still now virtually). The Boiler House is also one of the many community agencies that refers people in need to Hackney Foodbank (part of the national Trussell Trust network, but constituted as a small local charity). The Foodbank is headquartered further south in Hoxton, but counts St Thomas’ church in Clapton as one of its five sites in the borough (update: in June 2021, the St Thomas’ foodbank site is now moving to the nearby Leaside Trust, itself a small charity supporting young people with sports activities).
Small charities have received some support from the government — both explicitly through an infusion of money to the National Lottery Communities Fund and perhaps indirectly through funding targeted to organisations like hospice charities — but this bailout is small in the face of the overall shortfall charities face. However, it is somewhat reassuring to read the Charities Aid Foundation’s findings that public giving has remained relatively stable and more people intend to donate to local charities in the next few months (40% in May, up from 34% in March). This year’s Small Charity Week is timely, and will hopefully bring more much-needed attention and support to the cause of these organisations.