Oxfam Scotland celebrates 50th anniversary

Oxfam Scotland is celebrating its 50th anniversary today by erecting a ‘refugee camp’ in the heart of Glasgow to highlight the plight of Syrian refugees. 

The international aid agency opened its first Scottish premises in Glasgow in 1963 and since then has raised tens of millions of pounds for people living in poverty around the world. From large scale emergencies like the Asian Tsunami and Syria Crisis to long term development work with small-scale farmers in Tanzania, Oxfam Scotland has been at the forefront of providing life-saving support whilst simultaneously challenging the unjust systems that keep people in poverty.

To mark the 50th anniversary, staff from Oxfam’s Bicester warehouse – where supplies for emergencies are stored – are erecting a refugee tent and water tank in Glasgow’s Buchanan Street. 

The equipment is normally used in emergencies around the world and are currently part of Oxfam’s humanitarian work in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp where 120,000 Syrians have fled the fighting. Oxfam is campaigning for peace talks as well as fundraising to support its humanitarian response.

More than 100,000 people have been killed since the conflict began more than two years ago. Some 2 million people, half of them children, have fled the war and taken refuge in neighbouring countries where they are struggling to survive in very difficult circumstances. In Syria, another 6.8 million people are in need of help as the violence has destroyed homes, hospitals and infrastructure. 

Mark Goldring, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB, is attending today’s event in Glasgow to pay tribute to the volunteers, campaigners and the Scottish public who have supported the charity. 

He said: “Since starting as a small fundraising group 50 years ago, Oxfam Scotland has not only raised vital funds for Oxfam’s work around the world, but become a key voice in speaking out on humanitarian and poverty issues at home and abroad. 

“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary. and thank all of our many supporters, we hope the public will continue to work with us to help others. Today, we’re asking that help to focus on the crisis in Syria which has caused huge suffering to many millions of innocent people. We hope the public will join us in pushing for a ceasefire. We are also seeking donations to our appeal so we can help those whose lives have been blighted by this conflict. 

“People in Scotland have given us magnificent support over the years. Today we’re asking them to renew that commitment to help us respond to the Syrian humanitarian crisis.” 

The organisation that became Oxfam GB launched in Oxford in 1942. Two decades later a group called Glasgow and Clydeside Freedom from Hunger raised £108,000 for an Oxfam farming project in India – later setting up an office in Glasgow’s Exchange Square to become Oxfam’s Scottish branch. 

The Scottish-funded project, based in Anand, thrived and grew to become the largest cooperative dairy in the world, supporting the villagers with new schools, hospitals and family planning centres – an early example of helping people life themselves out of poverty. Since then Oxfam Scotland has funded projects in dozens of countries and been a vocal campaigner on tackling the causes of poverty both overseas and here in Scotland. 

The charity played a vital role in campaigning for an increase in Scotland’s International Development Fund to its existing £9 million per year, as well as for the creation of the Scottish Climate Justice Fund in 2012. And, working with others, Oxfam Scotland also campaigned for the Scottish Parliament to agree the world-leading Climate Change Act in 2009. 

Judith Robertson, Head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “From the beginning of its work in Scotland, with a handful of people who wanted to help others in some of the poorest countries in the world, Oxfam Scotland has provided crucial and life-changing aid. Aid work has changed hugely over the last 50 years but the support and generosity of the Scottish public has remained constant. 

“From giving up their spare time to work in our shops, to donating to our emergency appeals and supporting our campaigns – their support is crucial. That loyalty has enabled us to not only lift people out of poverty but also to give a voice to people in poverty who are too often ignored.” 

In Scotland, Oxfam’s UK Poverty Programme works with partner organisations and community groups to increase the voice of those living in poverty and campaign for a fairer society. Today, the Scottish Parliament is debating Oxfam Scotland’s report Our Economy – a blueprint for a fairer economy where everyone can share in our collective prosperity. 

Many people will be most familiar with Oxfam through its shops. There are currently 51 Oxfam shops in Scotland and the oldest of them, on Church Street in Troon, has been open since 1972. Around 1000 volunteers currently work in the shops in Scotland and over the years specialist Oxfam branches have opened including book, music and boutique shops. 

Last year the 51 shops took more than £5m, with the bookshop on Byers Road in Glasgow bringing in the greatest amount. While shops are crucial to Oxfam Scotland’s work, the past 50 years have also seen a change in the way people donate. From “bucket shaking” collections to cheques and debit cards, online giving and last year’s launch of donations via ATMs, the face of fundraising has change substantially.