Charity sector · Ethical living · Social justice

The Millennium Falcon and an Armani dress

A Lego Millennium Falcon, a red Armani dress and a family organiser are all items I’ve bought recently in charity shops.


Charity shops are a British thing; the first modern-style charity shop was set up by Oxfam in 1948 to raise money for the organisation’s relief work in post-war Greece and is still trading at 17 Broad Street, Oxford (in fact, I’ve been there!). Charity shops in the UK raise £270m each year for charitable causes: my recent purchases have funded:

  • palliative care
  • support for people who are homeless
  • services for people with a learning disability
  • emergency and development work for some of the world’s poorest communities
  • animal welfare
  • support for pregnancy-related challenges, including post-natal depression.

I sought advice from the Journey to Zero Waste UK Facebook group about how to buy clothes in charity shops. The hive’s tips included:

  • shop without Small Boy and Little Miss – ha!
  • go frequently
  • check the material labels
  • try on
  • choose a base colour and then look for items in that colour or that co-ordinate well

I also asked my mum, who is always picking up great items, for her charity shop tips. She asks herself the following questions:

  • Does it appeal to me?
  • Is it a good fit?
  • Is it a good name?
  • Do I need it?
  • Is it under £10? (I have set myself a limit of £5 for clothes)

I’ve had some successes: 

  • An apron for Little Miss (which both Small Boy and I thought would be good for when she is a little bit bigger and able to join in with our baking).
  • Tops from Phrase Eight and John Lewis, and some dresses from Next for work.
  • A kite – every family needs a kite!
  • A Lego Millennium Falcon and Lego race car (Small Boy is getting into Lego and had previously said he wanted a spaceship).
  • Little Red Train books which were on my wishlist for Small Boy.
  • There have been several times when I’ve chosen not to buy something and I’ve not regretted this.

I’ve purchased some new items (bought in goods sold for profit), such as birthday cards and a 2018 family organiser – items I would have bought anyway.


And some mistakes:

  • A wool cardigan that is too itchy to wear.
  • A £3.25 Armani dress which is too small but I’m optimistically keeping it.
  • A race car – Small Boy said he wanted it and I said yes in a moment of weakness and stress but in reality it’s just a large piece of ugly plastic junk.

What have I learnt?

  • It’s so much easier when I can go on my own. It also means I can buy items for Small Boy which can be given as bribes presents.
  • It’s really hard not being a consumer. I like buying and having new things!
  • If I don’t have time to try something on, then stick with sizes and brands that I know.
  • Most shops take cards (and some even do contactless) but there are still one or two which only take cash.
  • Shopping in charity shops is a lot of fun!

Further reading – Caroline Jones wore a different pre-loved outfit (all from Cancer Research shops) for an entire year proving you can be frugal and fashionable.

Charity sector · Christian

Being not doing

I’m enjoying spending time on sabbatical  maternity leave reading, ruminating and reflecting. I’ve had time to talk, to be, to learn and to dream.

Having read some of this blogpost about Understanding Voluntary Organizations by Charles Handy, I bought my own copy. My bookmark is on p.33 so I still have some way to go but already I love this book. It gives words and a framework to feelings and frustrations I have had for many years (I’ve worked in the charitable sector either as a volunteer or as a paid member of staff for about fifteen years).

Handy outline three ‘perils’ of voluntary organisations:

  1. Strategic delinquency – having a ’cause’ but no clear goals or objectives. Therefore no definition of success (or failure).
  2. Servant syndrome – a ‘make do and mend’ approach, with lack of investment and a culture of built-in inefficiency. A constant need to always say yes and respond to every problem and need.
  3. Ideological fanaticism – rejection of ‘success’, structures, professionalism and leadership.

In summary, he outlines the need for good management and strategic leadership. I can see myself carrying this book in my bag as a handy reference (little pun there for you!) for many years!

I wonder if these three perils are accentuated in Christian organisations? There is often already a tendency towards having a cause (‘the poor’) and a struggle to say ‘no’ as this could be seen as unloving or ‘unChristian’.

At the same time, I am reading Rhythms of Grace: Finding intimacy with God in a busy life by Tony Horsfall which follows on so well from my reading of The Perfectionism Book.

‘While many Christians claim to believe in the sovereignty of God, in practice most believe that everything depends on them.’

‘It is certainly possible to be doing far more than God ever requires of us.’

‘Prayer itself is seen as work.’

Maybe as well as needing strategic leadership and excellent management, social action also involves contemplative prayer. This may seem unnatural to an activist or even a waste of time but look:

Punctuation is a helpful way of thinking about Jesus’ relationship with silence and solitude …His times alone were the commas, pauses and full stops in the story of life. They gave the rest of his life its structure, direction and balance. His words and his works were born out of those hours of silent waiting upon God.‘ (David Runcorn quoted in Rhythms of Grace)

Jesus spent time alone with the Father. Just being. Not doing. 

His presence will go with me, and He will give me rest. He will go with you. He will give you rest.

He will guide me always; He will satisfy my needs in a sun-scorched land; He will strengthen my frame. 

He will always guide you. He will satisfy your needs. He will strengthen you.

Come to me, rest in my presence, hear my voice and words of love for you. You don’t need to work to gain my approval. You are my son, my child.




Charity sector · Christian · Social justice

Little Miss Helpful

Nominative determinism doesn’t work with Little Miss Helpful; she wants to help but her support is generally unsolicited and misguided. (Whereas Mr Tickle tickles, Mr Happy always has a beaming smile and Little Miss Shy is timid.)

Mr. Birthday and Little Miss Helpful

Sometimes I think we (and I mean specifically both followers of Jesus and those of us in the caring and charitable sectors) can be like Little Miss Helpful. There is a danger that our help causes more harm than good.

Sometimes this happens on a large scale such as the response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti (shout out to my genuinely helpful brother-in-law for bringing this to my attention). However, the next paragraph is a summary from a SlideShare by a humanitarian communications and innovation consultant.

Many people travelled to Haiti to help who had no experience and who couldn’t speak the language, they didn’t have the vital ‘back-room’ infrastructure or the basics needed (no accommodation, food, materials or transport), there was no long-term strategy and an influx of unwanted gifts-in-kind (basically junk that was dumped). Volunteers were unprepared: Luege gives examples of a woman arriving in unsuitable designer footwear and another volunteer who arrived without essentials such as soap, believing that such toiletries could be purchased at Port-au-Prince airport. People were recruited with the slogan ‘An Adventure Awaits you in Haiti!’. Aid was concentrated in camps rather than communities which meant that many families (even if they had a home) ‘lived’ in various camps in order to access services.

Often our desire to assist is so great that we don’t take the time to stop and ask what kind of aid would be most beneficial. The help becomes about us and our needs – whether that’s for approval, adventure, a desire to be wanted or a feel-good factor (a warm and fuzzy feeling inside because we’ve done something ‘good’).

It’s crucial we regularly check both our actions and our motivations whether we are helping an individual whom we know (personal gripe – don’t try and offer counselling if you’re not trained!) or we’re moved to help a particular cause, such as refugees or rough sleepers.

We need to determine if our actions are appropriate for the situation, preferably by asking experts in the specific area where we want to help. Are we genuinely helping or making the situation worse? Are we creating people who are dependent on us? Are we helping people live lives of dignity? Are we treating people as objects or ‘the other’? Do we have the necessary skills and experience?

The book Toxic Charity talks about the danger of short-term mission and gives the example of groups of young Christians who travel from the US to Mexico to paint various buildings. While they are painting, the local painters and decorators sit outside with nothing to do! It’s not as exciting to raise funds to pay indigenous tradespeople but in the long-term it’s more valuable to equip and build up others.


It’s so important to be aware of our own personal drivers. We all have needs that are met through donating time or money, but it’s essential to grow in self-awareness so we know what they are – otherwise they will impede the good we want to do. When my service becomes about meeting my craving for approval, then it’s vital I take time to remember it’s not about me and to reflect on my identity as a child of God.

My identity is not ‘Little Miss Helpful’ but ‘Beloved Child of God’.

Charity sector · Christian · Social justice

Take the child and his mother and flee

The God-child had to flee persecution and sought sanctuary in a foreign land:

Get up. Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Stay until further notice. Herod is on the hunt for this child, and wants to kill him. Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother under cover of darkness. They were out of town and well on their way by daylight. They lived in Egypt until Herod’s death. (From Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 2 – The Message)

refugees-1008393Several years ago, I was involved on a very practical level befriending and assisting individuals and families who were refugees, asylum seekers or failed asylum seekers. Working for a small community project in inner-city Birmingham, I met many people from Africa, Europe and Asia who had fled torture, war and persecution and had sought sanctuary in Birmingham. In my relationships with these people, I gained more than I gave. I learnt about generosity, community, faith and perseverance. It was a privilege to serve these amazing people in often quite small ways and I was humbled by the gifts and hospitality I received from them.

The most important lesson I learnt during those years was the power of ‘just sitting’. I didn’t have words of comfort for the homeless and destitute woman sitting next to me. I couldn’t offer a solution to her plight in the UK or to her family’s problems in her home country. But I learnt that by sitting next to her in silence, I could show care and compassion.

For global situations such as the current refugee crisis, it can be hard to know what to do and how to make a difference.


The problem is so vast and the scale of suffering unbelievable. The numbers are incomprehensible and the individual accounts harrowing. I feel overwhelmed by the issues, the political arguments and the horrors of what humans can do to each other. But yet, I believe we should act and that our actions make a difference.

Here are some ideas of actions we can take:

  1. Get involved with your local charity helping refugees: In the Watford area, there is the Watford and Three Rivers Refugee Partnership which needs volunteer befrienders, financial support and donations of food. Current needs are: rice (in small packets), washing gel for clothes, tinned meat, tinned sponge puddings, milk and fruit juices. In Birmingham, I can recommend supporting Restore and in Manchester, the Boaz Trust. Other cities and large towns will have their own projects (have a look at the Naccom network).
  2. Give to an NGO working directly  with refugees: The Pilgrim family like to support Tearfund.
  3. Speak up: Many times I have not had the courage or the up-to-date information to counter arguments with someone who is being negative about refugees. I’ve found this helpful short leaflet produced by Refugee Action and am going to familiarise myself with its content so that I can confidently refute any myths. I’ve also now signed Amnesty International’s online pledge to stand up for rights for refugees.
  4. Become better informed: This briefing from Christians in Parliament about migration is a short informative read. Again, I’m going to get to grips with its content and look at the suggested follow-up reading.
  5. Campaign: For example, the Set Her Free campaign from Women for Refugee Women aims to end the detention of women seeking asylum in the UK and Stop Funding Hate is a social media campaign lobbying companies to cease advertising in newspapers which use ‘fear and division to sell more papers’.
  6. Buy these beautiful cards: The money provides phone credit for refugees across Europe and the pictures will be a visual reminder to pray, which leads me to the most important point…
  7. Pray: What if we thought prayer was the best action we could ever take on behalf of an other? Too often, I think of prayer as the weak option for when I have no other resources. But surely prayer is the ultimate action I can take? This article from a Tearfund worker in the Middle East inspires me to take prayer more seriously. I’m going to pray from now until 6th January (Epiphany) for refugees bearing in mind how Mary, Joseph and Jesus sought sanctuary in Egypt. I’m going to pray for:
    • A just asylum service in the UK
    • Healing from emotional trauma and physical wounds
    • An end to the conflict in Syria
    • Wisdom for politicians in creating solutions to the global refugee crisis
    • An end to hateful and inaccurate stories and headlines about refugees

 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19 from the New King James Version)