Abused by drunks, spat at and called obscene names, street fundraisers, or “chuggers”, have a lot more to deal with than public prejudice. But do they deserve your charity, asks former chugger Jake Tupman (pictured)
It was my first day, I was standing on a Liverpool high street and the weather was atrocious. I was armed with a clipboard, and already people were giving me disapproving looks. The first person I tried to talk to just raised his hand and walked on by. Another person was drunk, he started hitting me over the head with a newspaper, then he tried to hug me and then he started hitting me over the head with his newspaper again.
It was scary, people walked past as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening nobody seemed to care what happened to the chugger.
Making the decision to become a street fundraiser was easy after spending six weeks volunteering at a Thai school severely damaged by the tsunami, I’d seen at first-hand the value of the work that non-governmental organisations do for impoverished communities.
I’d gone through a lengthy telephone interview, a gruelling four-hour face-to-face screening process and two days of meticulous training but nothing properly prepared me for the unexpected incidents that happen on the high streets of the UK. As a street fundraiser you need to demonstrate positivity, imagination and passion, but when the rain is pouring down and you’re being abused by a drunk, all these attributes evaporate.
The term chugger, a blend of the words charity and mugger, is an example of the negative labels that, along with an identity card, hang around the neck of every street fundraiser. Abuse at the hands of the public is relentless I was spat at, verbally abused and frequently ignored. However, every now and again I met someone who made it all worthwhile. I remember when I was fundraising for Oxfam and I stopped a Somalian student at Manchester University who thanked me for what I was doing. He told me how Oxfam had built a well in his village and how many lives had been saved by the work Oxfam had done in his community.
One of my favourite things about being a street fundraiser was having the opportunity to learn about what was really going on in the world. Regular training sessions, held at the charity’s headquarters, would be so in-depth that you left feeling really passionate about the cause, and this passion made standing out in the rain or snow so worthwhile.
People love to hate chuggers because they are bearers of bad news. No one wants to stroll down a high street for a bit of retail therapy and be reminded of breast cancer or the crisis in Darfur. But keeping these issues in the forefront of the public’s mind is the only way to remind people that these are issues that threaten the fabric of our community.
It is unlikely that street fundraisers will ever attract much good publicity. But it should be remembered this Christmas, when you see chuggers standing on the street in the freezing cold, armed only with a clipboard, that most are dedicated, passionate people who risk abuse and discrimination to raise funds for worthwhile causes. It’s a thankless job but somebody needs to do it.
Jake Tupman is a relief support worker for housing provider Stonham
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