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A helping hand

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JOHN Augustus - Autograph Letter Signed 1954 praising Voluntary Unofficial AuntsIt is very obvious that there are more and more people today who need a helping hand. Whether you look close to home, at the elderly lady next door who can't quite manage to carry her shopping, or the growing number of homeless people in major cities all over the world, or the mother desperately juggling a part-time job, looking after the children, and making ends meet, or, most dramatically, the thousands of refugees fleeing war-zones, it is obvious to all that there are many people who badly need help. Some need a great deal of help, but many would be grateful for a just a little help or just a small, thoughtful, gesture.

While government agencies and the NGOs, from Oxfam to Médecins Sans Frontières, Crisis and St. Mungo's tackle the great troubles of our time, there is still a great deal of good which can be done by individuals. 

I was reminded of this whilst reading a letter from Augustus John to Mrs. Clara Hardy. How many today know the name Clara Hardy?  Not many, I expect, and it is hardly surprising. Mrs. Hardy didn't try to change the world, but she did try to make her own small corner of it a better place.

During the years between the two world wars, Clara Hardy founded the Voluntary Unofficial Aunts. The purpose of the organisation was to provide help and respite care for those looking after sick or disabled relatives and for struggling young mothers. For someone tied to looking after a mother, father or child who needs constant care, the chance to have a day off occasionally, knowing that their charge is in the hands of someone who is responsible and sensible, can be a lifeline. When the Second World War broke out, the value of this organisation became ever more apparent. 

It is unlikely that Augustus John found much time to be especially supportive of his struggling neighbours, assuming he had any, but he did at least send Mrs. Hardy a resounding message of support. 

We still have dedicated volunteers in this country today; some of them work for the Samaritans, others work with Crisis over Christmas, or for the many other groups who are there to help those in need. But we mustn't forget those many people who help out in small, but very welcome ways, who offer to get shopping for someone who isn't very mobile, who buy a cup of coffee for a homeless man, or who look after the neighbours' cat while they are away.

All of these people, helping in big ways or small ways, make the world a happier place.  And we could all do with a little more happiness.

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