Lets make it clear right from the start. I think that Cancer Research is a great charity. I have had far too many friends and family suffer from the disease and anything that we can do to help fight it has to be good.
And yet I have a real problem with their latest initiative, the dryathon.
The idea is that you raise money by pledging to abstain from alcohol for January.
My problem is not with the money raised or that people have fun whilst supporting good causes, but rather the unintended consequences. January is probably the toughest time for pubs. The excesses of Christmas and New Year are over and many of the customers need to tighten their belts. The short-lived new year resolutions are still being observed – drink less and go down the gym being a couple of favourites, and pubs suffer.
With record numbers of pubs closing over the last year or two it is clear that many establishments are living on the edge. Encouraging people not to visit them for a month might just make the difference between them surviving or closing.
I think this is bad for communities in itself. Pubs are not just about drinking beer. In many areas they are the last remaining social institution. Visiting pubs can be a lifeline for many people and their best chance of interacting with other people which is a great benefit to mental health. True, some charities would be pleased if everyone gave up alcohol permanently, but at least in a well-run pub consumption is monitored and the unexpected absence of regular customers can be investigated.
Charities also benefit greatly from pubs. I doubt there is one in the country which does not have at least a collecting box on the bar, and if I listed all the fundraising efforts undertaken by local hostelries, my word count would be well exceeded. I think charities will suffer a drop in their fundraising as pubs close.
My personal view is that my support for charities is a private matter. I won’t be pouring icy water over my head and I don’t wear ribbons, badges, wristbands or tee shirts advertising my contributions, but I accept that some people want to big up their beneficence on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram or whatever else is top of the technology pops. That’s fine, in the end all that counts is the money raised, but don’t neglect your local. If you are going dry, get down the pub and insist that your mates contribute the difference between the cost of your juice and a pint to the cause when they buy a round. If you want to do the ice bucket thing, why not organise an event at the pub? They say that charity begins at home, but perhaps it should begin down the pub. Support Cancer Research and Macmillan, but let’s make them see that pubs are part of the solution and not the problem.