We are not a charity

Disclaimer: We don’t think all charities are bad. There are some great charities,  many are incredibly necessary. We just choose to work outside this model as we think there needs to be proper alternatives as well as huge systematic change.

We don’t want to be a charity. We reject fitting into a pre-existing structure because we see so many problems with all charity organisational structures.

We want to create a separate way of organising based on solidarity, redistribution of resources, coalition, mutual support and real community.

The problem with the UK charity system is that dangerous structures have created a set of fixed rules and regulations that determine how we ‘help’ people. These structures fundamentally block the ability to create organically grown spaces of support, in ways that are human, exciting and desperately needed.

The Charity Commission has a set of regulations to adhere to, consisting of standards and terms that require charities to report their organisation’s operations to them. They decide what is and isn’t ‘help’, they decide what is and isn’t allowed. A charity legally has to register with them if their project’s income is over £5k (unless of course the charity is a Christian church, chapel or charitable service funds of the armed forces, who are exempt from this regulation).

To register as a ‘charitable organisation’ and get the benefits (such as access to the majority of grants) we have to mould our project to fit one of the systems set out. A constitution, trustees or committee members, specific reports and monitoring, a particular set of rules and policies are required. Whilst this has purpose, it can also be dangerous and reductive, blocking both creativity and projects to naturally blossom, grow and change in ways that actually work for the people involved. 

Of course, there are reasons why these things exist. In theory the CC should be regulating how large amounts of money is being spent, what charity looks like, how help is being offered to check that it does actually meet a need. 

We don’t feel they are succeeding in their objectives.

The monitoring of charities’ finances seems to overlook the importance of fair distribution of funds.  For example, the average income for a CEO in the largest 100 charitable organisations was £155,000 in 2019. The average income for a support worker is £19,000 (that’s a £9.13 hourly wage). This sustains the inequality and hierarchies that charities are supposed to be fighting. 

We find questionable what the CC defines as charity or “help”. We believe if they are monitoring care and support, that they should be focusing on ensuring those with lived experience are central to the set up and delivery of the organisation. At the very least organisations should be informed by these people. Instead the focus is elsewhere.  

Under current CC regulations, anyone can set up a charity to support people without any understanding of their experience, so long as the right basic policies and procedures that fall in line with the charity commission are in place. Charities are renowned for deciding what others need before asking. Some registered charities are causing more harm than help (according to those who access their support). 

A lot of assumptions are made within charities about our experience, our identity and our recovery. 

Survivors in particular are perceived a certain way that often takes away our autonomy and power. We are told that ‘for our safety’, we have to use the service a certain way, that has been decided by those who set up the organisation. Our “safety” is often used as an excuse to hold control within spaces rather than protect us from harm. The normalised charity structure encourages this.

Having both worked for and been supported by many charities and support providers, we have seen this kind of hierarchy, oppressive structures and unhelpful stereotyping of survivors, time and time again.

For us, the connotations alone around the word “charity” are negative. Charity is the idea of “giving” to those in need, often who are deemed inferior. Within the charity sector help is often delivered as rescuing; the charity or individuals involved see themselves as a saviour in their giving of support.

There is a lack of acknowledgement for the context and reason behind why people need help in the first place, and instead we victimise and disempower those being supported by seeing them as “other”. Their misfortune is seen as something disconnected from the society we operate in, live in and benefit from, rather than how society has allowed for these circumstances to exist.

This creates problematic power dynamics. Rather than correcting injustice, sharing aid and redistributing resources fairly, it is often one group of privileged people feeling superior in their giving to another group of people who are seen as helpless and incapable. 

The charity commission not only allows for these dynamics but reinforces this idea of what charity is. Through determining what the framework of giving support looks like, it disallows for alternative spaces to independently manage meeting their community’s needs. 

Being given the freedom to self-determine what we are and how we operate is essential. People on the ground need to be able to freely support those in crisis and difficulty. We need to be trusted that we have the knowledge and competence in our projects to allow agency when meeting shifting needs.

We don’t agree with having to meet a structure that we see as fundamentally flawed. We operate instead on trust, need, transparency, empathy and compassion. We aim to work in solidarity rather than help, creating collective responsibility for supporting one another and a space for exchange of support and ideas, rather than a service that simply provides support. We want to create a space where we can acknowledge making mistakes but won’t try to cover our backs with policies. We will be open and transparent in how we grow from these opportunities. 

We want those who hold us accountable to be our own communities rather than a higher body.

We are working towards building the kind of society we dream of living in, and to do this, we have to start with unapologetically shaping our project exactly as we need it to be. We operate based on what people ask for and need not how we are told by authority. 

We want a space where instead of ticking boxes and filling in forms we connect with each other in ways that work. A space where we can allow for mistakes and know there is always more to learn. A space where we acknowledge privilege and power and look at what to do with it. A space where instead of having to prove our vulnerability, our needs or our trauma to access support we are trusted unconditionally that we know best. A space where we don’t have to answer to funders or have them control our collective projects. A space where we have respect and trust for each other’s expertise in our own needs. 

A space for our projects to be free, joyous and alive.

If you think we should be able to have spaces like this and support us in what we do, please donate to our gofundme to keep us going. We rely on individual donations to run our project.