Right now everything seems pretty much all well with the world. I'm sat out in the garden and the sky above is of the wall to wall blue variety. The dogs are panting, the cats are basking and the birds are auditioning for a Disney film. It has to be said sunshine and rural Scotland make a great fit. If only they got the chance to spend more quality time together.
Will it last? Of course it won't. Maybe we'll get another day or two. Maybe even a week. But there is no getting away from the fact it is all but dark by half past nine. In a few short weeks all of this late summer idyll stuff will be a distant memory. In a few short weeks the Atlantic storms will bring forth their bone chilling damp greyness and another winter will anounce itself.
Over the years I have become accustomed to the day when winter smashes in the front door like an anti-terror SWAT team. The temperature dives a few degrees and everyone digs into the back of the wardrobe for winter coats. Hey guys, I'm here. Glad to see me? Sure you are.
It is the day when hundreds of thousands of people have to face up to feeding their power meter for the first time in months. It is the day when the cold hard fact of a summer's worth of standing charges smacks them in the face like the cold wind off the Atlantic. A long summer's worth of sneaky standing charges mean a rude awakening. It means putting a tenner in and only being granted a couple of quid's worth of heating. It means at least another tenner is required to feed the beast.
It means a familiar moment of choice has arrived. It's the heating or eating moment. And the house is bloody cold and damp and idea of not being able to warm the place up is hard to get the head around. And the kids are already layered up and still they look pinched and miserable as sin. It is the day when meters all over the land swallow up every penny of disposable income. It is the day when heating is invariably chosen over eating as the chosen home for the last tenner in the purse.
And then? Then it is Citizens Advice or the social or a support worker. A piece of paper issued. A referral made. A walk to number six Buccleuch St and the bell over our front door goes dingaling. Then it is few days worth of emergency food because the meter has eaten up the last tenner in the purse.
For all of us at First Base it is the day when we see thirty people for the first time in months. It is the day when e mails land in the box from our satellite collection points reporting an urgent need for stock replenishment. It is the day when winter bites. It is the start of a long few months. A desperate kind of showtime. The shape of the time to come. Tales of woe counted out in their thousands. Beaten eyes and kids with pinched faces. Tragic feelings of guilt and shame you can't persuade away. The dismal, weary reality of Great Britain in the post Lehman Brothers, post Brexit world.
All of this can seem a long way away on a sunny morning in August. But it isn't a long way away. It is a couple of months away. Maybe three months with an Indian summer and a following wind. It is time to plan. It is time for the dreaded speadsheet. So yesterday I opened up the dreaded spreadsheet and of course it told the story it always tells in August – a story which might be given the working title of 'Oh Christ, here we go again....'
Ah the spreadsheet. Numbers shuffled and added and combined care of Microsoft Excel. A numeric projection of what a cash starved little front line charity needs to make it through its year end at the end of March. It offers a chance to try spot every saving that might be found. A hundred pounds here and fifty pounds there. Oh it all adds up of course, but it never adds up enough to change the big picture.
And the big picture stinks to high heaven, just like it always stinks to high heaven on a sunny day in August. The spreadsheet tells me what I already know. First Base needs just over £40,000 to make it through to the year end. First Base has just over £20,000 to achieve this. Which means that First Base just about has the cash to make it through to Christmas. And then? Then a blank sheet of paper. A bloody nightmare. Twenty five people a day needing emergency food from people who haven't found a way to pay the rent or keep the lights on.
We've been here before of course. Lots of times. But it doesn't make it any easier. Every year it seems the pot of cash charities like First Base aim at gets smaller and smaller for a hundred and one different reasons. You will be all too familiar with many of these reasons. In the post Lehman Brothers world, austerity has ruled the roost. Cutting lifeblood cash to frontline charities is a pretty easy cut for Governments and Councils to make. It's a damned sight easier than making their own people redundant. We have been the low hanging fruit for nearly a decade. This means charities who have been council funded for years are all of a sudden council funded no more. They have yawning gaps to fill. And so they frantically apply to the same shrinking pots of cash as the rest of us. The grant donating Trusts are being swamped like never before as more charities chase less available cash. Believe me, it isn't pretty. The giant super charities with chief execs on £150,000 a year try mightily to use their muscle and size to squeeze smaller outfits like ours into oblivion. Other charities change what they do as they seek a new gravy train to jump on. Application forms become documents of little more than far fetched fantasy.
It's a seriously ugly business, believe me. And in the end it is little more than a lottery. Every filled in application form is little more than a wing and a prayer. A one in five chance of a few quid. Maybe one in ten. And all the while it is impossible not to think of the front door being closed and locked on a cold January day when twenty five people turn up looking for something to eat.
So. It's time to think out of the box. It's time for a big new idea. It's time to ask for every bit of help we can lay our hands on. We have gone all the way back to basics. To brass tacks. And here is what we have come up with.
We need cash. £20,000 of cash. Which means we need to ask people to help us to raise cash for us. How? Well, more often than not people say 'please sponsor me for doing this thing'. It might be parachuting or climbing Kilimanjaro. We prefer something much more straight forward. So back to basics. What do we do? We hand out emergency food. How long can a person feed themselves with one of our emergency food parcels? Half a week.
So the solution seems pretty obvious. It's a back to basics solution.
'Please sponsor me for living off a First Base emergency food parcel for half a week.'
It's a whole lot less complicated than jumping out of a plane.
So how does this idea work? Pretty easily. If you are willing to help us out, just give me a call on either 07770 443483 or 01387 279680. Or you can e mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will then arrange a time to call round with a box full of emergency food. I will also bring a signed set of my books by way of a thank you. Then there are a couple of options. If you want to go old school, I will bring some sponsorship forms. If you want to go digital, you can set up a page on JustGiving. To be honest we prefer the Just Giving option as it means that almost all of the donations will attract an extra 20% worth of Gift Aid. Let's face it, most of us find the idea of clawing 20% of our tax money back from the clutches of the right honourable Philip Hammond MP pretty appealing.
I am doing it myself. If you want to check out what a JustGiving page looks like then click on the link below.
As you can see from the food in the picture, living off one of our emergency food parcels for half a week really isn't any great hardship. We try hard to make our fod parcels as good as they can be and thanks to the monumental generosity of our local community we are able to offer much more than beans and value porridge.
Are we a worthy cause? Worth the effort? Well, I hope we are. Not only do we find a way to provide food to 4000 people who cannot afford to buy food, we also find ways to help to tell their stories. By and large those who come to us for help are the forgotten people. Nobody much wants to hear their dismal stories. Their suffering is swept under the carpet. We do our best to give them a voice. We nag the hell out of local politicians to come along to serve food parcels themselves. To get an up close and personal look at what austerity looks like in the flesh. And we name and shame the ones who never reply to our invitation. We nag the hell out of newspapers and radio and the TV to help tell the stories we hear at the front desk. And then of course there is this blog of mine which over the last few years has attracted the thick end of 400,000 visitors.
For a very small charity in a very small Scottish town, we reckon we have managed to find a surprisingly loud voice on behalf of those who have none. We don't claim to solve the problems of the world. Instead we do what we can. Over the last year or two we have managed to halve our costs. Now there are no cuts left to make, not so long as we plan to open up our doors for five days a week.
So I guess that is about that for my sob story. If you can help, please help. We need it. Maybe you might be willing to bung a donation onto my JustGiving page here.
Even better, maybe you will order in a box of emergency food and open up a page of your own. If you do, then we will be meeting up soon. I hope the kettle is on.