Charity begins at home but is it now big business?

Every now and then comes a heartening good news story whether it is one of those homeless people who help a passerby only to end up the centre of a massive fundraising operation or the story I wrote about last year about a man who was about to commit suicide only to be talked out of it by a passer-by and who after a long search managed to find the person who saved his life to say thank-you.  In Detroit, James Robertson has hit the headlines for walking a return journey of 21 miles each day to work with a fund set up for him currently around £80,000 or $129,000.

Last Sunday night at around 6.30pm in the district of Low Fell in my beloved former home-city of Newcastle, 67-year-old Alan Barnes was pushed to the ground and brutally attacked.  His assailant only running off when it became clear that Alan had no money or valuables on him whatsoever.

Obviously this a heinous crime to inflict on anyone, even more so on a 67-year-old just pushing his bins out for collection outside his home.  What made this worse though is that Alan suffers from a number of afflictions caused by his mother contracting German Measles during pregnancy.  As a result Alan is partially slighted, a very light build at 6 stone and only 4’6″ feet tall.

Alan Barnes

Alan Barnes

The attack left Alan with bad bruising, a broken collar bone and a fear of ever returning to his house and neighbourhood where he has spent much of his life.  Due to his condition Alan has never been able to work despite being a talented mathematician and has devoted his life to voluntary work with his local church.

The dreadful attack was soon reported on the local media where 23 year old Katie Cutler was so horrified when she learned of the attack that she set up the appeal on the website Go Fund Me.

As I read the local papers I was aware of the story from the beginning and watched in amazement at what happened with her initial small target surpassed in hours. Within a day or so, the total was up to £2,000 and then £20,000 and a day or so later the story broke on national television before it spread around the world on the internet.  Today the total stands at around £300,000 ($500,000) with the vast majority paid for my local and probably elderly people.

Over the weekend Katie and Alan got to meet at the house of Mr Barnes’ sister where he has been staying since the attack.

‘It doesn’t feel real, to be honest,’ she said, after presenting Mr Barnes with chocolates and a Get Well card at his sister’s home in Newcastle. ‘When I read that he was scared and didn’t want to go back to his home, I knew I had to do something to help. I never thought it would take off in this way. I am thrilled that it has done.’

Mr Barnes says the money will enable him to buy a home for the first time and make a fresh start.  Seeing him on television you can just tell what a modest and unassuming man he is.

‘I am totally overwhelmed and incredibly grateful to Katie for what she has done for me. The youth of today don’t always get portrayed in the best light, but I won’t ever forget what this young woman has done.

‘This is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I can tell you one thing: it won’t be wasted. I am always very careful with money. I just want to feel safe again.’

Alan and Katie

Alan and Katie

Knowing Newcastle as I do, it is safe to say with £325,000 Alan will be able to live in a fabulous home.  Lets hope he can recover his health and enjoy the rest of his life in peace and that something wonderful happens to Katie for starting such a worthwhile collection.

It’s worth noting that all of this happened without any advertising budget or state assistance at all and is simply the result of genuine concern and kindness of normal people at home and around the world.

I don’t know about where you live but over here our television is constantly plagued by charities wanting money.  It runs the risk of creating what is known as compassion fatigue.   These huge and often very rich charities run slick marketing campaigns almost as national and global institutions and spend countless millions on their PR.  In just 20 minutes watching television on a Sunday afternoon it is very easy to see adverts of children being beaten up by abusive parents, people dying or not dying from cancer, victims of wars in Syria, Gaza, Ukraine, starving people in Africa, Ebola campaigns and my long time favourite of water-aid featuring villagers in Africa drinking contaminated water but apparently not being bright enough to stop their donkey urinating in the shallow pool of water that we are led to believe is where they drink from.

I take giving to charity very seriously and amongst various projects support the RSPB and RSPCA (birds and animals), a donkey charity overseas, a Christian schooling project in Palestine and the Salvation Army for helping homeless people in the winter and various cancer and heart charities.  Alongside that is the various inevitable disasters that happen each year from floods in Bangladesh, earthquakes in Pakistan or China and famines and diseases in Africa and various worthy social causes closer to home.  None of which I’ve given to due to advertising and I can’t think I have ever given any money because of slick television campaigns.  I list all these causes not to shout out how much I give to charity as in truth it is not a great amount of money but because of what I’m going to say next, I wanted to show that I am a big believer in charity.

In fact I do rather resent these depressing charity adverts filling up the few hours a week I get to spend with my wife in our own time.  My wife hates these adverts as it always puts her off what she is doing.  I on the other hand can quite happily ignore them and eat my food or drink my drink while watching the deliberately heart-breaking adverts.  It’s not because I don’t care but like many others, I’m more than aware of the awful things in the world and they and many other things are always on my mind. If I want to give money and I can give money then I shall but there is only so much money and I’d rather give it to causes I know will fully utilise it and not siphon it off on tv campaigns or highly paid executives in plush offices with personal assistants and all expenses paid travel.  I simply don’t believe that a household in sub-Saharan Africa doesn’t realise that having their donkey urinate in a 2 inch deep puddle isn’t a good idea or that they wouldn’t try to stop it… in fact why aren’t the camera crew chasing the donkey off rather than just filming it and letting the poor family poison themselves?

It’s easy to see why Alan Barnes in the U.K. or James Robertson in the USA become the centre of charitable attention, theirs is an organic story with neither one asking for help and our emotions aren’t being toyed with and we know we can make a real difference.  Our money isn’t being diverted to advertising campaigns, expensive management or siphoned off by corrupt officials.

Despite record giving by the British public, apparently many charities are seeing their incomes fall.  My suggestion to them would be to get back to the basics instead of running bloated organisations.  The case of Alan Barnes shows that people aren’t tired of giving to charity at all and need no urging to help those in need, they just are sick of being treated like idiots and told what to think and give money to.  Let’s face it we are all told what to do and think by government, jobs and even family and friends.  Being charitable comes from the heart and you’ve either got it or you haven’t but it seems most of us do and its great to see that in this media age, a young lady from an age group that is frequently derided has more than done her bit.

Here is the link if you’d like to donate to Alan Barnes

If you’d like to help James Robertson buy a car then click here.

If not and I don’t blame you at all, then think about helping a charity local to you.  Sometimes I think giving money is the easy way out so prefer to help out with my time, skills or giving away my clothes and belongings but everyone has to find a way to help that is best for them.

Either way, if there is one person who deserves to drink donkey urine for the rest of his life then it is the man who attacked frail old Alan Barnes.




About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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11 Responses to Charity begins at home but is it now big business?

  1. Francis says:

    a most sensible take on this sensitive subject


  2. What an insightful post – and I love your last comment! it would be the ultimate revenge to find that heartless person and inflict your revenge upon him (sorry, I am assuming it was a male).


  3. EBotziou says:

    A heartfelt post Stephen, and I completely concur with the donkey urine comment. I hate seeing these adverts on TV – it is so depressing and I often wonder if any of the money we donate goes to where it is supposed to. The case of Alan Barnes is a wonderful example of the generosity of the British public, and I agree that more people would be inclined to give to charity if they didn’t feel that they were being pushed and manipulated into doing so.


    • I’m glad that you agree. I was in the local high street this morning and in the space of just 200 feet came across 6 charity collections and got caught by two of them. Common sense says that the typical person in a high street at 11am on a tuesday morning in February is not likely to have that much money. The collectors of course were all fitted out in corporate fleece jackets and body warmers… I wonder who paid for that? I didn’t notice anyone giving them anything but did see a middle-aged veiled Muslim lady giving some food to a unfortunate looking “homeless” man which just reinforced my view entirely.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. kiwiskan says:

    Agree with you Stephen. We have a site called ‘give-a-little’ here in New Zealand that raises money for individual causes and needs. Like you, we give to a number of charities, but not because of slick advertising – often there is some personal connection.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Malla Duncan says:

    I think this story is amazing. Brought tears to my eyes. We don’t have charity TV ads in South Africa that I know of – but since I don’t watch that much TV I can’t be sure. So glad such an awful crime has resulted in such a wonderful gesture from the world at large. Fully concur that the perpetrator should drink donkey urine! But still – that would be too lighter punishment for such a heinous act.


    • It is a lovely story isn’t it. Its nice too that from doing so an evil thing to such an innocent man, the criminal has inadvertently given him a life-style which is probably much better than the criminal will ever have.

      Yes, I couldn’t say what I would do to the perpetrator.

      These adverts are awful and they must pay a lot of money for some of their slots. Sadly as we don’t really watch much prime time tv and instead watch more of the arts and history type shows which have fewer viewers, I guess it makes them cheaper for charities to target. If you watch the wrong show or channel you can see the same neglected children, war refugees or starving/water impoverished Africans 4 or 5 times an hour. I didn’t used to mind when it was a simple advert with a telephone number but now they make it like a mini-horror movie it is too much.

      When checking my facts before posting this, I tried typing into Google ‘Water Aid don’ and it autocompleted what the donkey was doing. Obviously it has alienated thousands of others from a worthy cause!


  6. Pingback: Charity begins at home but is it now big business? | Thomas Becket

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