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When Old Ben, the newstrade’s very own charity, was founded, Queen Victoria had been on the throne for just two years! The charity’s name has changed a number of times since then and the challenges today are very different. Alex van Straubenzee, its chief executive officer, looks at the work of the charity and the challenges ahead.

By Alex van Straubenzee

The NewstrAid Benevolent Fund became an incorporated charity on 20th October 2006. This was followed, a month later, by the switch from being regulated by the Friendly Societies, to the Charity Commission. So began the latest development in the life of a charity, established in 1839, to help London street sellers, who were literally dying in the gutter, when they could no longer physically sell any more newspapers.

NewstrAid’s nickname, Old Ben, was coined by the Cockney street sellers, who found the original name – Newsvendors Benevolent and Provident Institution – too much of a mouthful. That nickname survives to this day, even though the charity’s name has changed many time over the past 168 years.

Today, NewstrAid is supporting over 950 beneficiaries, which is a 26% increase since 2004 and the highest number of individuals and households on record. This is a most important statistic, as it demonstrates the health of the charity and shows our benefactors and prospective donors how vital their financial support is. However, we could not have reached out to so many needy members and ex-members of the news trade without the assistance of the national and regional newspaper publishers, notably the Daily Mail and the Mirror, who, during the past two years, gave us valuable advertising space in their titles – free of charge. It has also shown us that there are still many more families and individuals out there who need our help.

The main source of our income comes from our Area Committees around the country. These volunteers, supported by the local wholesalers of newspapers and magazines, give their time, expertise and facilities free of charge. The success of their fundraising is not by chance. It is the product of sheer hard work, enthusiasm and generosity. For them, the reward is belonging to a club and doing something worthwhile for colleagues and ex-news trade members less fortunate than themselves. Allied to the Area Committees is a regiment of 120 Almoners. Often members of an Area Committee, these volunteers are the human face of NewstrAid for our beneficiaries. They visit them with their welfare payments every four months and often stay a while to chat and reminisce about days gone by and offer help and advice.

Fundraising events

Our central fundraising revolves round a calendar of events. The secret is to make them as attractive as possible in order to generate enthusiasm in the newspaper and magazine industry. These events include golf matches, a sponsored walk round the Fleet Street area in London, horse racing and a dinner and ball, to name a few. Recently, we set up a new committee to attract a younger audience to the charity. Named the Key Group, the committee comprises a team of thirtysomething executives from across the news trade. They have a database of young colleagues who they email regularly with details of forthcoming events and news. They are hugely enthusiastic and organise events which are more attractive to a younger audience, such as karting, pub quiz nights and a very popular 5-a-side football tournament.

We are fortunate to have a strong relationship with ACE [Association of Circulation Executives]. ACE is famous for its enormous Christmas lunch, where 1,200 members of the news trade gather in the Grosvenor House in Park Lane, London. At this lunch, we regularly receive a donation from the Christmas lunch raffle proceeds, which contributes to the ACE / Old Ben Childrens Fund. ACE also sponsors a number of joint events as well as generously giving NewstrAid a substantial annual donation.

One idea, I am hoping to progress, is to embrace other parts of the newspaper and magazine industry. The journalists, printers and advertisers all have their own charities and NewstrAid looks after everyone involved in the product once the copies leave the printers, from the delivery driver, through distribution, wholesale and retail. Everyone? Well, not quite. Circulation does not stop at newsstand. The more recent entrant into this historic trade is the subscription. This is where the growth in overall magazine circulation emanates from. But who looks after the subscription people if they fall on hard times? NewstrAid doesn’t, because we never have. But we could change our rules and we are probably the only port of call, short of a new occupational benevolent fund being set up. We cannot, however, make this move without more funding. If our beneficiary numbers continue to rise, we have to plan our future funding to meet this increase. We have to look for different sources of income, so I would welcome advice from the subscription and direct marketing fraternity.

There is no doubt that the traditional news trade is under threat. The future of print is coming under more and more pressure from electronic media. However, the main threat for NewstrAid comes from the continuing reduction of independent wholesalers and newsagents and the rising dominance of the multiple groups and supermarkets. Most of these large companies have their own benevolent funds and may be, therefore, reluctant to make donations to a charity helping relatively few of their employees. There is a temptation to point out to these companies that, by grabbing a large slice of the market, with the resulting influx of extra profit, they have some responsibility to help those who fall by the wayside as a result. I suppose, as CEO of the news trade charity, it is my job to go knocking on the door of these companies to say, in the immortal words of Charles Dickens, our former president, "Please Sir…"

For more information about NewstrAid, see their new website which was launched in January 2007. Alex can be contacted at: