As Now Then is often proud to point out, there are a lot of good things about living in Sheffield. But some of the best things around here are just about to sink forever. Why? I’ll explain and tell you why you should probably never respond to a friendly greeting on the street.

There is a whole raft of people in groups making creativity happen, quietly mopping up problems and filling in the gaps to make life exciting, for free. These are the region’s community and voluntary organisations. They are extremely wide-ranging and for the most part are worried about running aground. The recession doesn’t just affect capitalists and those who work for them. It’s across the board. A falling tide leaves all boats high and dry. Community organisations may get donations from trust fund investments in stock markets, but the grants have almost dried up. Many get funding from local and national government, which are now trimming their sails drastically. Some also get ordinary people’s donations, and we all know that the average person doesn’t have a lot of spare cash floating around at present.

But aren’t they voluntary, these endangered organisations? Doesn’t David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ provide a solution? Perhaps in leafy Sussex, where an appeal for any croquet club or telephone box restoration fund might whip up a storm of retired barristers with management skills and millions to spare, but here things are different.

Around a third of people do some sort of voluntary work. For those who don’t it’s largely because they feel too busy already. But volunteering can’t pay rent, or insurance, or utility bills. The salaries of staff who hold things together aren’t just going to materialise. St. John’s Ambulance Service, to take one example, relies on thousands of committed volunteers, but 100% volunteer-based? I don’t think so.

You may be thinking at this stage that you can’t face any more appeals for money, and I sympathise. Don’t give money to any charity that stops you on the street to ask. Those grinning ‘charity muggers’ have one thing in common it seems; they all work for national charities. Good causes perhaps, but let’s face it, cancer research can just as well be funded by the good burghers of Sussex as the proletariat of Sheffield. I’m saying charity begins at home in a quite specific way. The Sussex county set are not likely to fund Sheffield organisations, so we have to, even if that means saying no to some very deserving causes.

Look around and think for a moment. There are dozens of things happening that you probably don’t even realise are charity-run, but which make life worth living for all of us. And even if you can’t spare the time to get involved, maybe you’re glad to know the services are there; things like Sheffield Live, transmitting radio broadcasts in a whole spectrum of languages across our community, or Access Space, offering geeks and beginners its unique open door to the world of free computing and fabrication. I mention these two because they both quietly run ‘Friends Of’ schemes, gathering local supporters like some parks and theatres do. Others deal with even less glamorous aspects of life; nature conservation, helping teenagers or asylum seekers. There are hundreds of others. You may be surprised if you take a look at Help Yourself, or Voluntary Action Sheffield’s website, or the Links page on Alt-Sheff.

These organisations won’t stop you in the street. They’re too busy doing good work. You may have money to support national and international charities as well and that’s fantastic, but please take notice here in Sheffield. Look at what’s of value, because when it’s gone, it’s gone.

sheffieldlive.org
access-space.org
sheffieldhelpyourself.org.uk
vas.org.uk
alt-sheff.org

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