Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey, 16 July

No panic – I wasn't in the dock. Together with many of my fellow Masters of Livery Companies and others from the City of London we packed into Court Number 1 – to hear good news not bad.  I did avoid sitting in the dock – not that I am superstitious or anything but I preferred one of the other seats.

The occasion was the AGM of the Sheriffs’ and Recorder’s Fund. This charity, little known outside the City, has been helping ex-offenders make a new start in life and also relieved the hardship of families of serving offenders.  The grants it gives are not huge but they are many and each one is targeted and valuable. It is widely supported by the City Livery Companies and individuals but has a modest income with which it does a great deal.

The grants range from clothing which accounts for over 50% (many prisoners leave prison with only the clothes they are wearing), household equipment, tools of trade and education and training.  Social workers or probation officers make the applications so that they see that the money is disbursed appropriately.  A study of outcomes was carried out which found that about 10% of those who had been helped re-offended against the national rate of 53%.

We were addressed by one of the women who had been helped by the fund (no trivial task to speak to a packed courtroom of “suits”) who said how helpful the money had been – she had been a drug user for over 20 years and had now been clean for two and a half years and was volunteering helping others.

You can see more information on the website here.

After the AGM we were addressed by the Rt Revd and Rt Hon Richard Chartres, Bishop of London.  He is an outstanding speaker and his words were eloquent and to the point.

He ended by quoting Moses Maimonides, the mediaeval Jewish philosopher, who outlined eight levels of charity or Tzedakah.  The Bishop focused on the highest level, which is to help a person to help themselves so that they should not need to appeal for help.  This is what this fund does.

The next level, which is the one I like to use, is where someone gives charity without knowing to whom it is going and the person receives it without knowing from whom it came.  No glory for the giver and no discomfort for the recipient.  He also referred to the seventh level, which is where the giver gives less than he should, but cheerfully – as opposed to the eighth and lowest level – he who gives only because he is forced to – with a grumpy face no doubt.

In my years working for a charity I often used to think of these examples – I have met them all.

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