A few weeks ago, a new neighbour in the village drove to Calais to pick up a family of four ladies who had escaped from some of the worst atrocities in Ukraine.
Three generations, the grandmother, the mum and two daughters (18 and 21 years old).
All of them, up until a few months ago, were happily living their life, studying, working, and retired. Now, like millions of others, they find themselves in a foreign country with nothing, and the elder two ladies do not even speak English.
Our own home is already too full with our 4 kids to be able to house anyone, but we were keen to help as much as we could and within a week the Mum was busy working with us as we cleaned our 3 holiday lets together.
This gave her some much needed income and some dignity, even though it is a far cry from her previous career as a publisher and editor-in-chief.
As long as the Mum wants this work, while she learns english, then we will provide it.
It will dent our profit margin a bit as we wouldn’t normally pay someone to help us clean, but in the grand scheme of things, knowing we have helped even a little bit is reward enough and we’re busy connecting them with all the local people and businesses that we think could be of use to them all in different ways.
This then got me thinking about our charity stance and philanthropy in general.
We are both people who naturally want to help others if we can. We are no saints, believe me, but I think we are good souls with kind hearts.
Between January-April 2021, during another enforced closure due to Covid Lockdown, we opened up our accommodation free of charge to families needing a short respite from domestic abuse.
The catalyst for this was a previous guest contacting us on New Year’s Eve (my birthday), desperate for a place to stay for the night to get away from her partner, but with the regulations in place, she was not allowed to stay with friends or family.
So we sprung into action and welcomed her for what ended up being a week while she managed to sort out some alternative and safe housing.
Over the next 4 months we welcomed, fed and clothed dozens of individuals, families and pets; when we were too full, we fundraised or simply funded stays ourselves in local hotels and arranged lovely local businesses to donate warm meals.
It filled our hearts, tested our emotions and emptied our pockets… but we would do it again in a heartbeat.
I spoke to a guest just this week who was booking a stay for her 50th with us, and she mentioned how she saw what we were doing last year and all the other things we do (we are patrons of a cancer charity that gifts stays to those affected by the disease and whom helped us when Vicky was diagnosed with cancer in 2018. We also regularly gift free nights to the NHS and offer permanent discounts to blue light card holders)
She was so happy to be able to stay in one of our places.
I didn’t ask specifically, but it is possible that she only knew about our business because of what we did to help others, as it was widely shared by the press and on social media when we were doing shoutouts for both assistance and to ensure that anyone who needed to “get away” knew about what we were offering.
Anecdotally, I know we have got business because of some of our charitable efforts; obviously this was not the purpose of our philanthropy, but it is a nice side-effect for us and any business who gives from the heart, so I’m also happy to share and celebrate it.
I think as small business owners, we should not be shy to tell our stories of giving and of helping others; at the very least it may encourage others to do similar and it may also make a prospective customer decide to give their hard earned £ to our business rather than a large, profit driven corporation.
Unfortunately, not everyone thinks the same and indeed we were horribly abused and trolled by a coordinated attack from a women’s group when we offered our respite stays from domestic abuse.
It was ridiculously tough to deal with when at the same time, our energy was focussed on trying to help and look after others.
We were publicly accused of only trying to gain attention for our business and of trying to profit from the charity we were giving.
The fact that we were not allowed to operate for leisure guests at this time and we were offering our accommodation for free, didn’t seem to matter to these people.
At one stage it was so bad that we did think about stopping, but the families we were looking after persuaded us not to; not for their benefit, but for those people we were going to be looking after once they had left.
I’m glad we didn’t stop and we will continue to be charitable.
We will continue, where appropriate, to sing about what we do because it makes us feel good to know we are making a difference to others.
And heck, if we win some awards for doing good things and even if we indirectly get some business from it, then why the hell not…
Let’s celebrate and reward all the good people and businesses out there that are trying to do their small part in making other people’s lives just a little bit better, and let’s not give in to those who see the negative in everything – there are more of us who simply have good souls and kind hearts.