What happens when the state takes a backseat in matters of health and welfare? Roll back the clock to Victorian times and you find an answer: voluntary organisations step in and attempt to fill the breach. Often referred to by historians as the 'age of philanthropy', the nineteenth century witnessed an extraordinary growth in this sector. It seems that just about every need came to be catered for, from institutions formed by well-intentioned busy bodies for the education of 'fallen' women, to ad hoc funds set up by local people for the widows and orphans of shipwrecked sailors. In my home town of Reading, regular church collections were held for the Royal Berkshire Hospital which, like many other hospitals at the time, was a charity.
With such a history, it is perhaps not surprising that the culture of giving has become firmly engrained in the nation's psyche. Nobody knows how many charities there are in the UK. The figure often banded about is 160,000. According to David Ainsworth, online editor at Civil Society and Media, the number is closer to 400,000. Whatever the true figure, it is beyond debate that many people depend on charities. In turn, charities depend on cash to continue the valuable work that they do. Visit any of their websites and you'll quickly see how vital it is. A trip down the high street tells the same story with its numerous charity shops and 'chuggers', trying to get you to pledge monthly amounts to their cause.
Of course, things have changed considerably in the last century or so. As well as being a prominent provider in its own right, the state now gives significant financial support to many charities. Television fundraising has been a game changer too, with tens of millions being raised each year by events such as Comic Relief. But, what people perhaps don't realise, is that money from these sources is not readily accessible to all. Colostomy UK receives no such funding and so has to rely heavily on donations and fundraising. Without this, it would be impossible for us to carry on our vital work of supporting and campaigning on behalf of ostomates. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the term, an ostomate is someone that has undergone surgery to divert their bowel or urinary system through an opening formed in their abdomen (called a stoma). This type of surgery is used in the treatment of a range of conditions, including cancer, Crohn's disease and colitis, as well as following trauma to the abdomen. All ages are affected, with some sources suggesting that as many as one in 500 people in the UK have a stoma. Although the number of urostomies formed each year is unknown, the NHS reports carrying out around 6,400 colostomies and 9,000 ileostomies per annum.
As you can probably guess from the above statistics, thousands of people turn to us each year. So who exactly makes it possible for us to help? Well, as I suggested above, and in common with many other charities, it's down to two groups. The first are those kind people that make donations (and not only of the cash variety) - big and small, they're always welcome. The second are grass roots fundraisers. Contrary to the popular stereotype, these people are not like Mrs Mangle or Hyacinth Bucket. Instead, they are more like my young friend Charlotte who was recently diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome following years of suffering. On return from her latest stay in hospital the first thing she did was to organise a cake sale to raise money for Ehlers-Danlos Support UK. Like so many of our fundraisers at Colostomy UK, she was motivated by the desire to help fellow and future sufferers. This blog is dedicated to people like Charlotte, that anonymous mass of people up and down the country that donate and tirelessly fundraise to keep charities going. Rarely, if ever, do they get the recognition that they deserve. I hope that after reading this you will be encouraged to support local charity events. Just remember, one day, it might be you that comes to depend on their services.