Charitable deeds aid members in need

Picking up my phone, I immediately knew that Stuart was ill. His voice was a whisper, his words intoned desperation. He refused, at first, to tell me what was wrong.

We were colleagues on a newspaper 15 years earlier. He left to freelance from Spain, but we always enjoyed a drink when he was in town.

Now he had developed a life-threatening chest condition. His medical insurers had, on a technicality, refused some of his clinical bills. Too ill to work for months, he was about to be thrown out of his flat as a result of rent arrears.

Fortunately, I had an idea. After discussion with LFB's then Welfare Officer (Stuart is a branch member), I approached NUJ Extra, on my friend's behalf. NUJ Extra is an independent charity, funded by our union, to help members in need. Within days, the trustees considered Stuart's case and provided nearly £5000 to help him out.

Since then, I am happy to say, Stuart has made a full recovery and is now working as an editor on an international glossy magazine. He recently told me how important was the help from NUJ Extra. "I was at rock bottom, it hadn't occurred to me that the union could help. The practical assistance made an enormous difference, but more than that, realising that I was part of a caring professional community was what helped me to turn the corner."

Supporting members in need has been an NUJ commitment since our union's inception, explains Chris Wheal, the chair of the charity's trustees. "Unions have always been about mutual assistance and we continue that to this day. Ours is a precarious profession and hard times arise when you least expect them". Wheal, like most of the charity's trustees, is elected to this position at our Delegate Meetings.

The charity does follow rules in respect of what it can and cannot fund, more details of which can be found on the NUJ's main website. Because providing such help is such a core activity for the union, all branches are required to elect a Welfare Officer. That person's main responsibility, set out in our rules, is to provide an initial contact for members facing difficulties and guiding them through the process of making applications.

Seeing how important NUJ Extra was to Stuart prompted me to make two resolutions. The first was to raise money for the NUJ's charities. Among other things, I have organised a series of evening events, such as those with Harry Evans and Gary Younge that have already brought in several thousand pounds. Secondly, I decided to seek election as a branch welfare officer so that I could provide help where the need is most acute. So if you do feel that NUJ Extra could help you, please get in touch, and rest assured, it will be in the strictest confidence: tim@timdawsn.demon.co.uk.

  • Stuart is not my friend's real name. The story otherwise is factual, however.