The British Charitable Fund is one of the three charities to receive a part of the proceeds of the sale of the Connexion Calendar 2018. The other two are Open Gardens/Jardins Ouverts and Cancer Support France.
The British Charitable Fund gives financial support to British people who have come to live in France and find themselves, for whatever reason, without sufficient resources to live on.
It has a long history. It was created in 1823 by then British Ambassador Lord Granville in response to the poverty suffered by British migrant workers and their families in Paris.
On one occasion, in 1863, Charles Dickens gave public readings from ‘Little Dombey’ and ‘The Trial from Pickwick’ in Paris to raise money. There was a fundraising ball in 1865, attended by Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie. More than 150 years later there is still poverty among the British who live in France.
Last year the charity helped 76 households, a total of 139 people, giving out €250,000.
Julia Kett is chairwoman of the trustees of the charity and she says they help all sorts of people. “We will give money to anyone who really needs it, anywhere in France.
"There are elderly, isolated people who hardly see anyone from one week to another. There are single mums and dads, who are finding it very hard to cope. There are people who have fallen on hard times because of illness. There are some very sad stories and, despite the image of ex-pats living a life of ease on the Riviera, grinding poverty does exist among UK citizens living in France.
"It is awfully hard to ask for charity and it takes a great deal of courage to send us an email or pick up the phone. If people contact us it is because they really need help.”
One 55-year-old self-employed lorry driver was unable to work after a serious fall at home. He was living alone and turned to the organisation after his savings had almost gone. He said: “I would like to express my sincere thanks and gratitude for the support the trust has given me over the last two years, a period when, financially, life has been very difficult for me. Happily things are improving and I can see some light at the end of the tunnel.”
One mother of two struggled to make ends meet after her husband left: “I was completely overwhelmed when I opened my mail today and found a clothing grant for my children. They are in great need of clothing and shoes - we have been gluing our shoes with Super-Glue for an awfully long time now!”
BCF gave money to a retired couple who could not afford to replace a broken boiler and install convector heaters: “It’s amazing how we were able to actually sleep through the night the day we were told of the award. So, a very big thank you to all for that!”
The charity first listens to a person’s story, then gets them to fill in an application form and their case is examined at a monthly meeting of trustees. The claimant is allocated a contact trustee and the charity works as fast as possible to send out the desperately needed help.
Usually, this comes in the form of a monthly grant, which goes towards everyday outgoings such as rent, electricity, food and heating. There are other one-off grants for items such as basic household equipment, clothing grants for children, education support grants for adults who need to learn new practical skills, essential dental work or new spectacles for the elderly and the costs of repatriation when all else has failed. Usually, money is given for a period of around 18 months to help while the claimants get back on their feet. Sometimes, for an elderly person it can last for the rest of their life.
Mrs Kett says that a trustee will keep in touch with the claimant, to offer help and advice. She says they try their best to reassure and encourage those in need.
She and the other trustees have learned that there are people living in dreadful conditions but that they welcome them on home visits with a warm smile and a cup of tea and that people living with poverty do so with courage and stoicism. They have seen the unfairness of life, the harsh blows dealt to some. They feel that what they do matters, as it gives those who go to them for help, the chance to turn their lives around.
You can help by giving a donation and details are on the charity’s website - www.britishcharitablefundparis.org. You can also help by buying a Connexion calendar.