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Jul 23

Should there be a Museum of Charity?

The UK has a great history of charity. Shouldn’t we celebrate it as a country?

After looking around I found perhaps the oldest charity, the Hospital of St. Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty in Winchester. It goes back to 1136 and was apparently founded by Bishop Henry de Blois, a grandson of William the Conqueror. Apparently, the water in the area was unfit for drinking, so copious amounts of ale were offered instead! Some 900 years later, it’s still going, though I imagine some of its policies have changed.

And then there is the Society of Schoolmasters, founded over 200 years ago in 1797 as a benevolent fund. It continued to adapt as the world has changed, but still operates today.

The first charity shop was opened by Oxfam in Broad Street in 1947, though during WWI a similar concept took place in a bazaar in Shepherd’s Bush. At the time it raised £50 000 for the Red Cross. Adjusting for inflation, that would be over £3.5 million today!

The earliest charities had a strong religious component, though I doubt that the fact that the four countries that donate most to charities as a percentage of GDP, the USA, UK, Canada and Australia, also operate on Common Law guidelines as opposed to Civil Law, is coincidence.

Over the last few decades there has also been an increase in charities inspired by other religions, reflecting the changing cultural face of Britain.

Isn’t it time that the diversity and achievements of the charity world was celebrated, officially, permanently? For the life of me I have not been able to find anything other than temporary exhibits to the efforts of the charity sector. Do correct me if I am wrong!

But given the incredible efforts of the sector, and its outstanding history, should there be a Museum of Charity somewhere in the UK? Not only as in recognition, but as a centre for inspiration for the future as well? Given that there are museums covering dog collars (no dogs allowed), pencils and lawnmowers surely there is place for charities?

Thoughts appreciated …