Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Monday 26th February 2018

LIKE many more, I don’t suppose I will look at my local Oxfam shop in future without thinking of the scandal that has tainted the charity.

And that’s very sad for the thousands of volunteers and dedicated staff who run this and other Oxfam shops throughout the country, in the belief that, in their modest way, they can make a difference to the lives of the poor and needy of this troubled world of ours.

It is tragic, too, for the people Oxfam does help — people in some of the poorest countries on the planet who may not get the aid they need if people’s trust in the charity has been so undermined they decide they can no longer give.

Oxfam shops in Cumbria raise around £700,000 a year — 2016 figures — to support the charity’s work worldwide. My nearest shop, in Keswick, is described by the charity as “one of the top Oxfam shops in the country”, offering an extensive range of quality pre-owned goods.

Oxfam has shops in several towns in Cumbria and says that “our teams are trained to make as much money as possible” from the public’s generosity. Volunteering is “a challenging and rewarding experience”.

I wonder what many of those dedicated volunteers thought as they turned up for their latest shift? Why bother? They generate millions of pounds in revenue, much of which apparently goes to pay fat cat salaries for the charity’s executives and advisers.

This army of volunteers, so badly let down, reads allegations that aid workers were reported to be inviting prostitutes, some underage, to orgies in their staff accommodation in Haiti. Sex for supplies to the destitute.

The guilty were allowed to quietly step aside or move to other senior posts in the charity sector, even after admitting breaches of trust.

Then, surprise-surprise, we learn that Oxfam is getting £32 million a year from the Government. Taxpayers, whether we want to or not, are supporting this and, one assumes, several other charities.

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has banned further aid payments until the charity can prove it meets the “high standards” expected. It has, she says, a long way to go to regain the public’s trust. “I’m very aware that there are hundreds of good, brave and compassionate people working for Oxfam around the world. They have been poorly served by Oxfam’s leadership team,” she remarked.

And that is a point we should not lose sight of. Help for the poorest must not stop because of the actions of Oxfam’s black sheep. Big changes are needed if the charity is to survive these latest revelations. But if Oxfam crashes and burns, millions will suffer the consequences.

The Oxfam situation has revived the argument about the amount of foreign aid this country dispenses at a time when our own National Health Service and other public services are at breaking point. Charity begins at home. Put the NHS right first, a lot of folk say.

I suppose it’s hard to comprehend that our poverty is very different from the poverty suffered by people in many overseas countries where Oxfam and other charities are working to improve living conditions and health. We give a couple of pounds, but then it’s out of sight and out of mind as we get on with our daily grind.

I believe we do need a comprehensive review of the overseas aid budget. Stop giving billions of pounds to countries with corrupt governments. But think very carefully before cutting aid to those who need our help most. It is, after all, one world we share, but not always equally.

For the grafting volunteers in the shops, for the decent, caring workers at the sharp end, the key is to ensure more of the money gets to where it’s most required. Meanwhile, a good clear out of the stables is needed if Oxfam is to restore its tattered reputation.

It’s ironic that this monolith, once a byword for dedicated charity work, has lost sight of some of its core values. But certain of its critics, now taking the high moral ground, are not exactly free from hypocrisy themselves.

To throw the baby out with the bath water and have Oxfam fail would be an even greater tragedy than the mess it’s currently in.

APOLOGISE WHILE THERE’S TIME

OLD time denizens of rugby scrums used to have a maxim of “get your retaliation in first”.

Translate that to modern public life, where hardly an element has not been touched by social media trolling, and you could use a similar analogy — “get your apology in first”.

I’ve noticed a few instances recently where people in the public eye have joined the confessional list, just in case something comes out about an ill-judged remark they made some years earlier.

We’ve all got a skeleton in the cupboard if we delve back far enough. An unwise comment maybe. Something that 10 years ago was in no way regarded as sexist, but might now outrage the deeply moral users of Twitter and Facebook.

The columnist Liz Jones recently wrote: “For every wise-headed reader of the printed word, there are 1,000 internet trolls on the hunt for the slightest offence to inflame their sensibilities.”

Trolls, people with nothing more constructive to occupy their time, will go back a long way in the quest to ruin someone’s life. Soon nobody in the public sphere will feel able to say or do anything, lest their intemperate views expressed yesteryear come back to haunt them.

So yes, I don’t know what I did. But I’m sorry. There, I’ve got my apology in first.

A SOGGY WARNING

THE sorry truth is that if you enjoy your summer sports, you’d better consider packing a brolly and a mac along with the soggy sarnies.

Cumbria boasts some of the country’s most delightful cricket grounds. I like cricket and my favourite day of 2017 was watching Cumberland play Buckinghamshire at Sedbergh School on a rare sunny Sunday when all seemed well with the world.

But sadly such days were few and far between from the beginning of July onwards. In fact, my local club lost virtually all its home fixtures between then and the season’s end, with the consequent loss of revenue.

Where Neville Cardus once wrote of delicious, sun-burnished days, this was more often than not a solemn, squelchy homeward trudge, another thumbs down from the umpires, another Saturday given up to the rain.

If a report by the Priestley Centre at Leeds University, investigating the potential impact of climate change on sport in this country, is correct, then no outdoor sport is going to be safe from the accelerating consequences of extreme weather.

Coastal golf courses washed into the sea. Cricket, with its extreme sensitivity to climate, particularly vulnerable. In an article in the cricketers’ bible, Wisden, Tanya Aldred wrote that climate change could threaten cricket in virtually every single one of its leading nations.

We’ve seen the impact of extremes of weather on our sports pitches in recent times. Threlkeld’s patchwork George Hutton Oval strewn with boulders after a flash flood. Keswick’s Fitz Park under several feet of water after Storm Desmond. Bowling greens and football pitches stripped of their lush grass.

Too warm for winter sports. Too wet for cricket. Still doubt the warnings about climate change do you?

MARRIAGES MADE IN THE PAVILION

AN item in the Herald’s invariably fascinating This Week In History column caught my eye, largely because it was a meeting 50 years ago which I think I attended.

Sir Percy Hope, Keswick Cricket Club’s president, speaking at the annual meeting, urged the team’s bachelor young men to get themselves a wife as the ladies’ committee was falling below strength. Not enough ladies to make the teas.

A leading figure in Keswick and district for a generation, he returned to the town after a distinguished military career. He founded the Lake District Hotels company and was a councillor and magistrate — and he liked his cricket.

Nowadays the very notion of women’s place being in the kitchen making the sandwiches would shock the sisterhood into outrage. In any case, women are now playing cricket right up to Test match level. I bet Sir Percy never imagined that.

NOT ONE TO MISS

TRAWLING through the latest planning lists — someone has to — I spotted an application by our water providers to the Lake District national park which gave the applicant’s name as “Miss United Utilities”. Blimey, a new job for those lately unemployed Formula 1 grid girls.