Last week like millions of people around the world, I watched the TV in horror as Notre Dame Cathedral burnt, writed Radio Aire presenter Caroline Verdon.
I’ve visited it four times on various family holidays and school French exchanges and each time have felt a bit in awe of it. The carvings, the history, the sense of serenity. The thought of future generations not being able to experience it made me feel quite sad and a bit empty – yes, I’m pregnant and hormonal and in the same week I also cried at the Nationwide TV advert, so make of that what you will.
We found out fairly quickly that the damage wasn’t as extensive as everyone had feared, the main damage was to the roof but the vast majority of the building was still intact and somehow no one lost their lives which was the main thing. Within hours more than €1bn had been raised to ensure that the roof would be rebuilt and the cash came from all over the world with many large corporations and wealthy individuals making huge donations. According to the press, Francois-Henri Pinault, who is CEO of the company that owns brands like Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, said his family would give over $100m, the Bettencourt family, which owns L’Oreal, gave €200m and oil giant Total donated 100million - but rather than celebrate this remarkable achievement, people were furious and my husband is one of them.
He’s livid that for bricks and mortar, where no one was injured, organizations can find it in their hearts and their pockets to donate these gigantic sums of money and yet six months after the Grenfell Tower fire in London in June 2017, which saw 72 people die and hundreds injured, losing homes and treasured possessions, only £26.5m was raised. My husband isn’t alone. My Facebook feed has been filled with posts where people are suggesting we should boycott the companies involved in the Notre Dame donations as they chose to support a building, when just a few miles down the road from the Cathedral there are thousands or refugees, hundreds of which are children, all living in complete poverty on the street. I’ve also seen comments about how their donations put into perspective how quickly and easily rich people could solve world issues if they tried.
Now I am not about to argue the worthiness of the cathedral over the worthiness of the surviving Grenfell victims but equally I’m not about to blame the so called rich for doing so either. I’m normal working class and I do my bit for charity where I can - last year I gave £10 to a local charity that takes inner city kids living in poverty to the countryside for a week’s holiday. Was that a terrible thing to do when people are dying of cancer? Should I have said no and prioritised?
I also donated £20 to a meningitis charity after a little boy at my son’s nursery tragically passed away – should I instead have given that money to an overseas famine charity because far more children die in third world countries on a daily basis than die over here from meningitis?
There are thousands of charities and thousands of ‘go fund me’ pages and to start prioritizing one over another on anything more than an individual preference is wrong. It’s also wrong to simply blame ‘the rich’ - if every working adult in the UK gave £5 a month to charity that’s nearly £1.9billion raised each year. Lets not say we can’t afford it, because we can. Most of us have iPhones and paid for TV subscriptions, we have a car, a house with a spare room, a choice of food and none of us need that. If we wanted to, we could live a simple life without all the mod cons. We, the normal working class people, could have a bloody good crack at saving the world if we wanted to but we don’t. We simply don’t care about others as much as ourselves.