Tuesday, December 16, 2008
About 16 years ago, I was commuting to London. Begging was not uncommon then (and might it become less uncommon now). I remember passing a poster in Waterloo Station which said "There are professional beggars operating in this area. Keep your money and give it to charity when you get home." And so I did, walking past the people begging and vowing to give to charity when I got home.
Well weeks passed and I still hadn't given any money to any charities and my conscience started to protest. I came to the conclusion that the moment had been lost when I'd passed the poster. There ought to have been the opportunity to give to charity there and then.
I then had a variety of meetings with City Council Officers. Some of the intelligence gained was worrying. Apparently in some of the Cities, the low life and pimps were moving in and threatening beggars to give them (at least) half; making young women take their babies with them as they get more that way. No evidence of that in Winchester at the time, but scary that it could come in. There was allegorical evidence of people driving in to Winchester, changing clothes, doing a stint on the High Street and making a lot more than their petrol money.
Through the operation of the City Centre management initiative, the concept of the begging boxes was born. The good people of Winchester were able to continue with their compassion safe in the knowledge that the money they donated would go towards three good causes; the Night Shelter that provided beds for homeless people; Trinity Centre that provided support for people with chaotic lives and the local movement that provided hot meals. I'm really pleased that the initiative is being revamped now.
But instead of calling them “begging boxes”, the professionals adopted the name of “diverted giving”. Now, when you think deeply about it, diverted giving probably does describe what the boxes do. But the problem is, you have to think about it. And people don’t want to (think about it). They need an immediately recognisable title.
So let’s call them begging boxes, shall we?
Oh, and do stop to put some money in if you can.
When the initiative was first launched, there was virtually no criticism apart from one person who was quoted in the local paper saying “Well if they put these things up, I’ll tear them down. I have a £20 a day habit to support.”