The importance of giving

 

While pro bono work is a significant part of how the Bar gives back to society, over a third of barristers volunteer for charity work outside their profession. Haresh Sood inspires with some alternative ways of giving

We all see and hear of people doing charity runs, walks and triathlons for a number of causes, which is a valuable source of fundraising. 

The message I would like to spread at the Bar, however, is that giving can come in many forms – donating blood, organs or hair, or helping someone get back on their feet. All these are alternative forms of giving and can yield great personal pleasure. We can get caught up in our daily working lives and materialism, sometimes forgetting those in need who are less fortunate in health or finances. ‘Giving yourself’ means spreading positive energy which, I believe, will always come back to you.

I come from a Hindu background in which helping others has always been promoted through various philosophies. This had an impact upon my thinking as I was growing up and during my school days in the early 90s, friends, family and I started to engage in charity work with a difference – we always felt a personal touch was very important when helping others and raising awareness. Haresh Sood Productions (HSP), a group of aspiring young musicians, actors and writers, was established to produce and direct theatre productions raising awareness of social, medical and charitable issues.

Over the years, the HSP team has raised over £10,000 and much needed publicity and awareness for various causes, such as Save the Children and the importance of its work educating and feeding children and shielding them from abuse. The team has also spread the word on the importance of healthy living in South Asian communities in conjunction with the British Heart Foundation, as these communities suffer from more heart-related conditions. We have helped the SNJ Trust in India and the UK with its work ensuring that diabetic girls – disregarded for being ‘only girls’ – get insulin. Other HSP projects have included rebuilding the lives of those affected by cancer, leukaemia and natural disasters such as in the Indian earthquake appeal. I spent four months working with children with epilepsy in a children’s hospital in New Delhi in India. This is a condition I also have, and I wanted to understand why treatment was not given to patients from villages. The support of various dignitaries and international celebrities, including actor and film director contacts made through my media and drama work, has assisted many projects. In 2004 at the age of 27, I was the youngest person invited to sit on Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s Unsung Heroes Judging Panel which awards people for their outstanding contribution for giving to others in alternative ways that rarely get heard about. Next year, HSP will mark 25 years of its work and plans to raise awareness of acid attacks and problems with the law on acid selling.

Haresh Sood meeting the Queen

‘Giving yourself’ – real hair wigs

Before becoming a barrister I explored other career paths, including acting, and was often cast in roles which made use of my curly hair. During this time, one of my friends suggested I donate my hair for a wig and in 2007, HSP launched ‘Give Yourself’, a project which encouraged people to give more than just money and give something of themselves. We discovered the Little Princess Trust, which makes real hair wigs for children going through chemotherapy, and in 2010, after three years of growth, my first donation was made. In 2013, the second donation was made while teaching at the QMC Hospital School and now the third cut is pending. In court, I usually tie it back as we are a profession in which men don’t really have long hair. The comedy of it is that I have often been called ‘Miss Sood’ by judges who mistake me for a woman.

Growing donation

Contributor Haresh Sood, Derwent Chambers, Derby and a member of Counsel’s editorial board

Why CSR at the bar? chambers’ perspectives

Sam Mercer, Head of Policy: Equality & Diversity and CSR at the Bar Council, writes: Corporate social responsibility (CSR) broadly concerns an organisation’s relationship with society. Aside from the compelling argument that CSR is about ‘doing the right thing’, organisations also quote benefits including cost and risk reduction (ie raising standards reduces the need to regulate to improve practices); competitive advantage (ie attracting and retaining talent as well as clients); reputation and legitimacy.

For the Bar, ‘community’ activity usually translates into supporting charities as well as domestic and international pro bono work, but volunteering can be much broader than that. The benefits of volunteering shouldn’t be underplayed. Volunteering helps the volunteer as much as the individual or organisation receiving assistance. Volunteering in any capacity not only provides valuable experience but also helps develop soft skills. Mental health studies evidence ‘giving back’ supports individual wellbeing too. Chambers that take a more strategic approach to CSR, better recognising the benefits internally, have much to gain.

CSR is commonly considered in terms of:

  • how an organisation treats its employees (and/or in our case, members of the profession);
  • how it works with its suppliers and clients;
  • its environmental footprint; and
  • how it engages and works with local communities.

From a community perspective CSR activity might include:

  • financial donations;
  • volunteering time;
  • gifts in kind; and
  • ‘being a good neighbour’.

Ann Langford, Chambers Director of Monckton Chambers, London writes: Whilst Monckton has no stated policy with regards to its corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the support of charitable organisations, there is within the culture of the set a natural encouragement for those who wish to contribute their skills to charities and community activities. Not surprisingly with self-employed sole practitioners, the level and type of CSR involvement is very much a personal decision. Examples include Stephen Cragg’s involvement with the Public Law Project and Alan Bates with ALAW (the Association of Lawyers for Animal Welfare). A number of barristers and senior members of staff are also school governors or charity trustees.

Some decisions are made centrally to reflect the collaborative commitment of the set to selected organisations, such as support of the Bar Pro Bono Unit, the Environmental Law Foundation and Advocates for International Development (A4ID). A respect for diversity has meant that Monckton provides internships to young people via the placement scheme operated by the Social Mobility Foundation. We also participate in the Pegasus Access Scheme, a centrally coordinated work experience programme that aims to support those from diverse backgrounds to consider a career at the Bar. Chambers-wide fundraising activities include the annual London Legal Walk in aid of the London Legal Support Trust and the clerks team’s male members have also supported the ‘Movember’ fundraising campaign, growing moustaches in aid of Prostate Cancer UK.

James Townsend, Head of Chambers, Guildhall Chambers, Bristol writes: Guildhall tries to support those local charities where we feel our contribution may most enhance the lives of those in our community. We vote for a formal ‘charity of the year’ from nominations put forward by members at our AGM. This year we are supporting the Jessie May Trust, a children’s ‘hospice at home’ service caring for local terminally ill children. In addition to a donation to the charity, we support their work during the year with events to raise additional funds and awareness of their work.

Members are also involved with local projects who provide access to opportunity in one form or another. For example, the Babbasa Youth Empowerment Project where barristers act as mentors to young people from a wide range of backgrounds living in Bristol; supporting their professional aspirations through regular meetings, advice and encouragement. Another example is the Youth Diversity Trust where crime team members partake in mock trials for local teenagers. Most of the young people have previously been arrested but have not yet been formally charged. The idea is to divert them away from the criminal justice system.

Why do we do it? Well, we believe that supporting these charities fosters a good ethical environment in chambers and contributes to our members’ wellbeing; after a frustrating day in court, members’ involvement with these projects reminds them why they chose to be in ‘the justice business’ in the first place.

The charity habit

David Hughes, a barrister at 30 Park Place, writes: Periodic charity events have been part of life at 30 Park Place for at least as long as I’ve been a member. Over the years, periodic cake bakes (some bake, all eat and contribute for the pleasure) have allowed those of us who aren’t bakers to enjoy the skills of those who are, whilst raising money for good causes. Perhaps to mitigate the sequelae of cake events, some members regularly don the pink and take part in the Race for Life. A couple of years ago, the civil team here decided to adopt a charity each year for which we would try to raise money. Many clients in serious personal injury cases, and their families, will need long-term support from charities, and it is only natural that we looked to those charities to support. We got the ball rolling with Headway. Two colleagues planned to cycle from London to Paris. They organised an auction, the items on sale including a Welsh rugby jersey signed by Sam Warburton. I ran/walked the 24hr Cotswolds ultra-marathon. This year, we’ve worked with the Child Brain Injury Trust (CBIT), for whom I ran the Brecon to Cardiff ultra-marathon – 42 miles which turned into 44 and a bit when I got lost on the route.

Why do we do it? Well, we know that the law doesn’t solve all our clients’ problems, that once a case is won or settled and damages are collected, there’s life to be gotten on with, life in which the help of organisations like Headway or the CBIT is precious. But it’s not all about virtue-parading. Exercise should be part of everyone’s life, especially barristers whose job involves long hours of stressful and sedentary work (not to mention cake-eating) – so why not get it in a way that involves a challenge and helps people out too? Over the years, some of us have got into the habit of running Cardiff’s half marathon. This year, following a recent bereavement in chambers, a team of us ran it to raise money for the Velindre Hospital – a specialist cancer treatment centre in Cardiff. In keeping with chambers’ traditions, we had a cake session on the Friday before the race. Calories and sore muscles, all in a good cause.

Big Curry lunch organising committee

Richard Atkins QC, Leader of the Midland Circuit and St Philips Chambers, and Fiona Jackson, 33 Chancery Lane, write: Neither of us had ever had anything to do with the City of London and its livery companies or charitable activities, so when thick envelopes from the City of London unexpectedly arrived in our pigeonholes, each of us wondered what on earth we were being asked to do. Upon reading the invitations to join the 2017 Lord Mayor’s Big Curry Lunch Organising Committee, our first suspicions were that we had been selected on the basis of spending too much time in The Temple Tandoori.

This is the first time an approach has been made to the Bar for assistance. Our spouses usually complain we are spending far too much ‘spare’ time doing work for Bar committees. However, eating our favourite food at the same time as helping raise much needed funds for ABF The Soldiers’ Charity – which, since 1944, has provided support to British soldiers, veterans and their families – was an opportunity they were prepared to sanction! Over 1,100 guests choose one of three sittings to enjoy a delicious curry in the Guildhall. Now in its 10th anniversary year of hosting a very special curry lunch to raise over a million pounds for ABF, tickets for April 2017 cost £100 per head and include unlimited wine and beer (email Amy Kenyon: akenyon@soldierscharity.org).

Cycling for cancer

Jonathan Parker, barrister and director at Quigg Golden, writes: In August I set a new world record time for cycling from London to Paris. The challenge was tougher than I could ever have imagined. So why did I do it?

I find helping charities very rewarding. In part this is because I have been fortunate in life and want to give my bit back. I also believe people are fundamentally generous, but that modern culture and lifestyle sometimes distract from that. When you have played a small part in helping a charity, it does provide a wonderful sense of satisfaction.

This particular event was triggered by losing my father to cancer earlier in the year. I’d previously lost my mother and two uncles to the disease too. After some initial self-pity I thought it would be better using my time to try and help others whose lives had been impacted by cancer.

The charity I chose was Cyclists Fighting Cancer (CfC). They help children who have been affected by cancer through giving them bikes and specially adapted trikes to assist with things like rehabilitation after treatment. I am particularly passionate about CfC because, as well as the impact that cancer has had on my family, I had to go through a rehabilitation process following a serious accident which included learning to balance and to walk again, similar to the type of situation that the charity helps young cancer sufferers to address.

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Haresh Sood

Haresh is a barrister at Derwent Chambers, Derby practising in employment, regulatory and civil law including quasi criminal. He is a member of the Counsel editorial board.