Michelle Cooper, Chief Executive of County Durham Community Foundation, makes a case for bread, roses and a Lumiere that supports them both.
“Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread but give us roses.”
Women’s suffrage activist Helen Todd first campaigned for bread and roses, and American poet James Oppenheim coined the poem of the same title. A simple idea, beautifully captured, that while we ask for economic gains, we also ask for dignity for all. Relevant? Never more so.
Lumiere is where these aims meet. We have supported the light art biennial’s Learning and Participation programme for years through match funding. This side of Lumiere pulls the talents and creative dreams of school children, prisoners, veterans, and marginalised groups into real life through dazzling installations illuminating the city and, more recently, the wider county. As I wrote last year, the programme democratises Lumiere, opening it up for all to be part of. It is a whole garden of roses.
Whatever your views on the causes, few will have missed the fight for “bread” that is going on in our county and the wider region. 38% of children live below the poverty line; this is far higher at 45% in some local communities like Shildon and Dene Valley. This past winter, there have been an unnecessary and crushing number of cold houses and empty cupboards. And as a funder, we’re deeply concerned for our communities and the small charities holding them together. They are offering support to more and more people, even as their own income loses value against inflation. Hardship has crept into a great many household budgets, with just a handful immune from the economic climate.
Like Helen Todd and her fellow suffragettes, we have taken our concerns and turned them into action. Our Poverty Hurts Appeal, which launched in November 2022, had raised more than £945,000 by the time it closed in March of this year. And while the Appeal may be closed, our funding programmes are open for business year-round.
So, as we push forward with our commitment to fight poverty through the Appeal, we also keep the other half of our promise: to enrich lives.
This year, our relationship with the Artichoke team (producers of Lumiere) has focused in response to the growing local need for our funding triggered by the economic fallout from the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis on top of years of embedded local poverty. Businesses that support the festival will have their gift matched by the Foundation, and a proportion of that gift will be committed to fighting poverty in County Durham all year round. Together we are providing ‘bread’ for our communities.
For those who tell me I shouldn’t support something as frivolous as an art biennial, I say firmly: it’s not either, or: it’s both. The groups we fund don’t draw a line, so we won’t either.
They pick people up. They are a family when there is no family. They find school uniforms, warm food, and beds for people with nothing. But they also arrange bikes so people can get to work, train children to become gold-medal athletes, and offer affordable flowers and affordable food. They comfort and care for the elderly, the lonely, the addicted. And they believe in the young and the hopeful and push for opportunities that transform lives. In turn, those they help often become the next wave of volunteers. Once helped, they become helpers. And, so, a uniquely wonderful kind of care is born, immune to elections and wars, doggedly carrying on doing what is needed.
When we visited the LCBC Community Hub, in St Helen Auckland, before Christmas: my attention was arrested by the pretty rows of cut flowers on the table near the fresh produce. Joanne, who founded and grew the project to help reduce food waste and ease hardship, explained that flowers are often the first thing to be cut from the shopping list when things are tight.
We need bread. And we need roses. Getting them both means working together.
Artichoke is partnering with County Durham Community Foundation to double selected Lumiere gifts. Businesses and individuals who support Lumiere can have their gift matched by the Foundation, and a proportion of that gift will be committed to fighting poverty and enriching lives in County Durham all year round. To find out more about how you can support, please visit Lumiere Match Fund or contact: [email protected].