At this time of year, enter any charity office and you are likely to be knee-deep in parcels and wading through a sea of tinsel. Gifts are constantly being donated – books, toys, bikes, clothes, and perhaps more than ever this year, food and vouchers. You name it and someone, somewhere, is probably delivering it to a charity before Christmas. Each day, announcements are being made by businesses about their financial donations to charities. And, as a sector, we are hugely grateful because we rely enormously on this intense period of generosity to allow us to help those we support.
In fact, nearly 60% of charities of the 25,000 charities on the Scottish Register have a yearly income of less than £25K. Incredibly, two thirds of charities have no paid staff, relying on volunteers. And, for too many of us, we are in a never-ending cycle – of chasing ever scarcer funding; of trying to keep on top of an ever-changing landscape of laws, policies and strategies; of recruiting and training staff and/or volunteers – all while doing the actual day job of supporting people. Even pre-Christmas festivities this year are a little overshadowed as we await news of the Scottish Budget on 19 December.
But, I am guessing that most of us have seen the brilliant Christmas movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. In case you have missed one of the thousands of times it has been shown, since 1946, the storyline revolves around George, a family man in a small town, who feels his whole life has been a failure, and wishes he had never been born. To cut a long film short, George’s wish to ‘never be born’ is granted (temporarily) by Clarence, his trainee guardian angel. George discovers that actually he has helped the lives of so many others to be better. He returns to his life and Clarence wins his angel’s wings.
In Scotland, we have some great laws, rafts of good policies and strategies, and ambitious targets. But this is of little comfort if you are afraid to put on your heating; forced to rely on a food bank; parked on an NHS waiting list; struggling to care for a member of your family; feeling alone; or even sleeping on the pavement.
But, please just stop and imagine the impact on Scotland if the voluntary health sector were not here? Without your work, where would individuals, families and communities turn for help as they became lost in the system? Who would build those non-stigmatising, trusted relationships that are so vital? Our role in Voluntary Health Scotland (VHS) is to create a healthier, fairer Scotland served by you, a thriving voluntary health sector. We know that, each of our members, from the smallest to the largest, is working tirelessly to improve health and address inequalities in communities and support people affected by illness and disability. And as gaps grow around Food Poverty; Fuel Poverty; Physical and Mental Health; Addiction; Educational Attainment; Homelessness –the work you are doing is ever more essential. And, of course, together, we are bringing the voices of individuals and communities to be heard by policy makers.
It is an enormous privilege to take over from Rob Murray, as VHS Board Chair. Huge thanks go to Rob and the other trustees standing down this year for steering VHS so brilliantly. I am delighted to say that we have welcomed 5 new fantastic trustees to join our Board, and their details will be on our website soon. Of course, you will know that Claire Stevens, our amazing Chief Executive, will be retiring at the end of March 2024. Claire has brought together a highly professional and dedicated staff team who are leading many aspects of VHS’ work. And, with a new Chief Executive search well underway, these are exciting times for VHS, if a little exhausting!
I hope you are each looking forward to some well-earned rest. And if you ever doubt, for a second, that your work matters then just imagine what Clarence, your guardian angel, would say to you.
Wishing you a lovely festive break.