Facebook. Who’d have thought it would be useful for things infinitely more important than Candy Crush, marketing and telling friends what you’ve had for dinner? Turns out the world’s favourite social media platform can actually save lives too…
If you’re anything like me, your Facebook news feed is a hodge-podge of fluffy animals, funny videos, lost dogs, political rants, sales messages from pages you’ve followed, Candy Crush freebies and photos of your friends’ dinners (incidentally, I’m guilty of posting all of the above on my own FB timeline, so I promise I’m not judging). You’d be forgiven for thinking that not a lot of any real use or meaning happens at Facebook, that it’s strictly about fun or letting off steam or sales and marketing.
But you’d be wrong. It turns out that Facebook is secretly being used to save lives.
As I’ve recently learned, Facebook is the ideal platform for doing good, in total secrecy, because Facebook’s groups can be set to ‘secret’. Which means that people can discuss all sorts of things without danger of being eavesdropped upon by anyone with no business to be nosing around.
Of course, secret Facebook groups can also discuss not-so-good things – like this group of police officers using a secret Facebook group to boast of sexism, bigotry and bad behaviour – and no doubt secret groups are being used for even worse things than that. But there is another group of people using a secret Facebook group to do absolutely wonderful things for poverty-stricken Brits, and it’s this group that I’ll be focusing on here.
The Biscuit Fund (‘TBF’) is a registered charity whose members are anonymous outside the charity (it’s the ‘other Anonymous’, if you like). All decisions about who to help, and how, are made via a secret Facebook group. Grants made by TBF might be as small as £20 to enable someone living in poverty to top up their electricity meter, or as large as £100 to pay an overdue bill and keep bailiffs from the door. Help might come in the form of a cash payment or a delivery of groceries to a cash-strapped family (at least two pregnant women have received vital nutrition thanks to TBF). The charity has even helped two elderly ladies who, in separate incidents, were mugged of their pension money on the way home from the Post Office. Often, recipients are touched as much by the thought that someone – a bunch of strangers, no less – cares enough to help as they are by the cash or the groceries.
TBF doesn’t accept applications for help. If you tried to contact them – and that wouldn’t be easy, as their contact details are not made public – you would not receive help. Rather, it’s the group’s members that nominate people for grants or groceries, having picked up tales of hardship from other, public Facebook groups or from elsewhere on the Internet or, occasionally, in real life. It’s a system that works well for the charity, because human nature being what it is, there will always be the odd bad apple that will tell a sob story in order to get a few quid for free that could have been put to better use as a grant to someone else in genuine and often dire need.
The group itself is made up of a diverse range of people. Some are in full-time employment. Others are small business owners. A few members are in receipt of state benefits. And this latter fact is what makes The Biscuit Fund even more remarkable, because almost all its funds to date have been donated by members – including those who are barely scraping by themselves on disability or work-related benefits.
The Biscuit Fund came to my attention today after I saw a post on Facebook by Katy Anchant, a wonderful lady I became friends with after becoming a fan and sharing the pretty bloody amazing (and very funny) letters Katy writes to David Cameron. Katy is a trustee (though not a member) of TBF, and has today released a poignant and beautiful single – “Home To You” (video below) – highlighting some of the 10,000+ entirely avoidable deaths caused by welfare cuts in the past few years. Katy has donated the song to The Biscuit Fund, and it can be downloaded here for free, though of course it would be fantastic if everyone who downloads the song could chip in a couple of quid to help keep the charity’s coffers healthy so that it can continue easing the pain of poverty in the UK.
As a spokesman for The Biscuit Fund points out in a press release: “We know that until something is done to end poverty in Britain, all we can ever be is a sticking plaster on a gaping wound… One of our ongoing regrets is that for every person we help, we know that thousands are swept away from us by the current of misery that is still being generated by benefits cuts, zero-hours contracts and the rising cost of living.”
If that current is to be held back by this tiny but caring group of ordinary people, brought together by a feature of Facebook that could so easily be used to do terrible things instead of good, even the smallest donation can make a difference. “If you can spare as little as a pound you could help make the difference between a child having a meal and going to school hungry,” the charity says. And really, there’s no arguing with that.