Juliette Bains: So-called ‘chuggers’ are clogging up the city’s streets

Walking through the city centre often means dodging those after your cash.
Walking through the city centre often means dodging those after your cash.
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After writing about Leeds city centre’s ongoing issue of begging over the past week or so, I expected a mixed reaction.

And you certainly didn’t disappoint, taking to Facebook, Twitter, the YEP’s website and the letters page to make your voices heard.

Whilst some of you said the YEP’s coverage was a bit of an eye-opener and clamoured for tougher action, an equal number said there was a need for more sensitivity and claimed stigmatising beggars was a sad sign of the times.

One thing I didn’t expect, though, was the number of you who took the opportunity to vent about another problem that is apparently tainting your enjoyment of the city centre streets on a daily basis.

I’ve encountered them myself many times, swarming around certain streets and refusing to be swatted away as you try and enjoy your precious lunch hour.

No, I’m not talking about wasps or flying ants (although there are an alarming number of similarities). I’m referring to the seemingly endless armies of street fundraisers, or ‘chuggers’ as they’ve been nicknamed.

Before you brand me a heartless monster, I have no problem with charities and have written extensively about the hundreds of incredibly worthwhile causes we have in Leeds. But if your comments are anything to go by, I’m not alone in taking issue with legions of clipboard-wielding, bib-wearing fundraisers, who target unsuspecting shoppers and try to get your attention in any way possible. It could be with a compliment, a ‘do you have a moment, madam?’, or simply by waving a form in your face.

No doubt they’ll catch you whilst your arms are full, when you’re running late, in a bad mood or all of the above. My first encounter with a chugger (which, in case you were wondering, is short for ‘charity mugger’), was when I was a teenager. I naively answered their plea for a quick chat and signed up to support the charity, not really knowing what it would entail. Hundreds of emails, a few quid and a dozen newsletters later, I finally realised what I’d let myself in for.

I felt I’d been taken for a ride and, although it was a decade ago and their marketing methods may have changed since, I still can’t help but harbour ill-feelings towards them. So now, I keep my eyes glued to the pavement and avoid eye contact. If that doesn’t work, I just say ‘no thanks’ and walk on. That tactic had been working well but recently I’ve noticed there’s no longer just a couple of these chuggers dotted around town.

There are hordes of them, so many that you have to treat your shopping trip as an obstacle course, mentally plotting out the zig-zag route you plan to take to avoid them.

It may sound harsh and I’m sure, as with the begging issue, there are some who won’t sympathise, and will say this is very much a first world problem. But the simple fact is that I do and will support charities I want to support, when and how I choose to support them.

Being cornered in the street and almost bullied into it isn’t the way to go about getting my help. I appreciate that these people are only doing their jobs, and it’s for a good cause, so the blame lies with those who recruit these people and send them out with explicit instructions to badger and harass people.

Surely, rather than charities forking out for such a nuisance of a service, it would be better spent on fundraising events or online marketing?

And in a city where everything from ice cream vendors to people handing out flyers for nightclubs are subject to strict controls, surely there should be more regulation of chuggers too? Until that happens, I fear this issue will just keep chugging along.

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