Why isn’t The Long Table a charity?
The Long Table is not a charity, we are something much better. We are a social enterprise. A social enterprise is an organisation with the heart of a charity (and with legal safeguards to ensure it remains with that heart forever!) but the body of a business.
This is a vital difference to us and operations likes Foodbanks or soup kitchens. Charity implies a transfer for wealth from rich to poor, it implies that some people have lots and give it to others and it implies that those in power are the people who should fix the problems of the powerless they support. It literally is defined as “the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need.” As the old saying goes
“the hand the gives is higher than the hand the receives”
This status quo is something The Long Table wants to break down and challenge. We are about sharing power, sharing resources and sharing control across our community to ensure everyone ends up less sick, less lonely and less fat.
A social enterprise model allows us to do this in a couple of obvious ways that being a charity doesn’t lend itself too:
1. Welfare charities target the least off (least being defined by lack of money most the time) and therefore create a brand that suggests only the least off need their help. This is not often an attractive proposition for a potential service user. That is unless someone is desperate and forced to accept their role at the bottom of the pyramid.
In contrast, The Long Table is able to address the entire market with our operations. Being fat, sick or lonely are not problems that affect only one segment of society. Everyone is at risk. Our social enterprise model means we can design services to target different groups and ensure we build a wide coalition of people working together. We also interact with our community as customers which creates a more equal context than the strong dynamics linked to welfare approaches.
2. Our social enterprise business model removes our poverty mentality that tends to stalk all charities. Charities only get money when they can showcase the needs of others. It forces well-meaning people to prove, identify and showcase people as unable to help themselves and in need of other people’s help. The basis of grant making in our country and most private donations is based on demonstrating deficits and weaknesses that one group are going to fix. This naturally divides people into separate groups- the helpers and the helped. It is nearly always impossible to bridge this divide in any welfare charity.
The Long Table celebrates feasting, beauty and plenty. We are able to show the world the best of food and not focus on the worst in order to get more money. We think making a profit is a good sign, profit in every sense of the word.
Like any charity want to change the world and The Long Table is one of our suggested remedies. The difference is we recognise that to really see change in our community, (less loneliness, less illness and healthier eating) is to work together to rebuild and reshape the way our community operates.
The reason we are not a charity is we do not want any divide between the giver and the receiver. Instead we recognise that at different times we are all givers and receivers and that this position changes depending on the topic, context and situation.
Our social enterprise structure allows anyone to become a leader, it allows us to let decisions be made by anyone and us to use business techniques to grow our work in a way that charities are not able to. We are not worried to run meals that make profits as profit is simply a way of documenting that people turned up and enjoyed it. We are not needing to single out guests to fit certain criteria and we are not forced to do anything by external forces or concerns.
We trust and experience that this new model brings a new hope to an area of the world –food and how we eat- that might actually be able to be changed to better fit the needs and aspirations of our community and wider society. The proof will be in the community we build. Come along and see for yourself. Check out The Long Table here.