The year we saw the Donald inaugurated as American President and he chose to govern by tweet; when Theresa May bet the house on an early election she wasn’t supposed to lose and ended up with Jeremy Corbyn emboldened and strengthened; when Emmanuel Macron beat the whole political system to win the French Presidency and the government officially kickstarted Brexit by triggering Article 50.
2017 was the year when terror hit our shores again with shocking attacks in Manchester and London, and we watched in horror as the disaster unfolded at Grenfell Tower. A year where we lost Tom Petty, Chuck Berry, Sir John Hurt, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, Sir Bruce Forsyth and Liz Dawn to name just a few.
Since I have been a small child, I’ve thought I am an optimist. I am always a glass half full person much to the annoyance of my friends who always say I am sickeningly positive about life. However earlier this year I discovered that I’m not an optimist after all. I read a powerful article by Rebecca Solnit in which she said that optimists and pessimists have one thing in common, they both believe they need do nothing. The optimist doesn’t feel they need to act because everything will get better, and the pessimist doesn’t because it will all get worse. Solnit argues that the world is changed by hope-filled people.
2017 was a tough year and 2018 isn’t shaping to be much better but I hope I can encourage you to join me in choosing not to be dismayed by the huge challenges the world faces, but to choose to be filled with hope and to have fresh determination to make the world a better place in 2018.
So many people in our country will face a shaky and scary 2018. I lead a charity, Church Army, that works with people in need across the UK. Last year we provided almost 50,000 nights of accommodation and 24,000 hours of 1-2-1 support for homeless people, and helped just under 100 people find their own homes for the first time. Our teams work with over 11,000 people regularly many of whom battle with poverty.
We only ever see a fraction of homeless people, the majority are the hidden homeless who sleep on friends’ sofas or in hostels. Imagine not having a place to stay, carrying your life’s possessions around in carrier bags. Having nowhere to shower or rest, being unsure where your next meal will come from, feeling constantly unsafe.
For many homeless people they feel ignored and forgotten by society, so you can make a real difference in just saying hello to someone, and on these cold winter days as you walk into a supermarket and see someone sat outside, ask them if there is anything you can get for them, a cup of tea and a chocolate bar can make all the difference. It tells homeless people they are not alone.
Over five million people in this country are trapped in low paying jobs, zero hours contracts and earn less than the Living Wage. Many others face delays in benefit payments, which means that over a million people in this country depend on foodbanks to feed their families. I had the privilege of visiting a foodbank earlier this year and meeting the amazing people who run this in their spare time.
They have been given so much support by the local community and I met a man who has been unemployed for six months, who literally had nothing in his cupboards, and was choosing between eating and heating. The foodbank has literally saved his life. Could you support your local foodbank? If all of us bought a few extra items on our weekly shop each week it would make a real difference to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Buying a coffee for a homeless person or supporting your local foodbank, these are things we can all do. And if we all did this, we become part of that movement of hope-filled people, determined to play our part in changing the world. My friend Desmond Tutu puts it this way: If we all did a few random acts of kindness, then those random acts of kindness together can change the world.
There are other ways you can help too. We are an intrinsically generous nation, we respond to appeals with sacrificial generosity. Across our country hundreds of charities are making a real difference to millions of lives. Some working with children, others working to help those living with life-threatening conditions, others committed to helping the lonely, those battling mental health conditions, others working to make our environment cleaner and safer, all staffed by talented, gifted, brilliant, people most of whom could earn significantly more in the private sector.
Change happens when people will it and when people work for it. I am determined in 2018 to be a more hope-filled person, who dispenses hope to those I meet, and who works for a more hopeful future for those in need. Hope changes the world around us, but I passionately believe hope changes us too.
I wish you and those you love a very happy and hope-filled New Year.
Mark Russell is chief executive of Church Army and writes in a personal capacity. He tweets @markrusselluk