35 years of… looking to the future

To mark the end of our 35th anniversary celebrations, Chief Executive Paul Streets OBE looks to the future, the aftermath of COVID-19, and our role in the years to come.

Paul Streets

Our 35th birthday has been an opportunity to look back at an extraordinary year. A year of disruption and disjuncture like no other. And yet it has also been a year when our priorities and values have run true.

The value of small local organisations has been evident in ways no amount of robust data could have showed. In troubled lives and communities supported. In responsiveness to local need that only local people could have been sensitive to, and able rapidly to reach. And in a sense of compassion for those affected by the pandemic few of us would have anticipated 12 months ago. Whether to those who serve us in occupations which can’t be done at home. To whole geographies and cities where the impact of COVID has been felt most acutely. Or to Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities that continue to face racial injustice.

Although we have been isolated from the rest of the world physically, global events have magnified these feelings. With regular comparisons of human tragedy across nations, and, unusually for global catastrophes, rich nations with older demographics affected as much as poorer nations. Especially Europe and the United States.

With George Floyd bang in the middle of this, giving added impetus to an awareness always known, but rarely openly acknowledged, racial inequalities and divides that have crossed continents in the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Coming in Britain after the Windrush scandal. A people-driven surge across oceans and history recognised and embodied in the very fabric of our heritage and in stately homes by the National Trust. Who would have imagined that this most august of charities would be debating with members of the public, and indeed, politicians, about our colonial past and our complicity in perpetuating racial injustice?

Alongside this we have given a temporary respite to our natural world as we sit in our homes and stay in our home countries. This has shown that human activity can and does make a difference to climate - negating the nay-sayers. And with this the re-ascendance of the expert. Whether in understanding the problem through epidemiology, finding solutions through vaccines in our labs, or describing the tangential impact of COVID on our environment. Expert as powerful prop to tough Political judgement rather than embarrassing pariah pushed to the margins.

But it seems hard to be optimistic about the next few years as we see glimmers of light at the end of the health crisis tunnel while peering into the darkness of the longer economic one. As ever the impact will be felt most on those who were already the poorest. 

Yet, at every level we have had a glimmer of what is possible through human effort. Locally through the efforts of communities and charities. Nationally through dispensing with the economic narrative of fiscal prudence in favour of human compassion. And internationally through the efforts to compare COVID strategies, create vaccines and control climate change.

In our own world we have seen this play out. At their best, small local charities we fund have been magnificent in adapting what they do at a time of crisis. Maintaining their long term support while also responding to local disaster relief. From face to face and group work to mixed models with some individual and group work online. And in many cases, working closely with local councils and institutions as never before in shared endeavour to make the greatest difference. The best of this will endure beyond the health crisis. People and communities have shown there is a different way to work. And it is better.

Our work with Lloyds Banking Group has mirrored this. The joint investment of banking staff as charity mentors 6 years ago has shown itself able to adapt too. The initiative has grown into dozens of Charity Response Forums, matching those with skills in the bank to those who need those skills in communities and organisations. Bridging and connecting different worlds. Quite literally bringing local charities into the homes of those who work in the bank in a way none of us would have imagined just a few months ago.

For all its horrors COVID has shown us what is possible. And what is possible makes me optimistic that as we work through the inevitable difficulties of the next few years we can get to a better more compassionate, more connected world. Whether in the communities we serve or across continents and nations.

Between now and then our task at the Foundation is the same as it has always been. To partner with great local charities who sit between now and that future working to ensure those who might get lost in the transition are not lost to our sight. Demonstrating the possible and using the knowledge we gain from that to show others what can be done to create a transition which is just.


Listen to this blog

We have recorded a full audio reading of this blog. Listen below. 

*Narrated by Paul Streets OBE, Chief Executive 

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