Charles Dickens was born 200 years ago next month. One of his lesser-known roles was as president of the NewstrAid Benevolent Fund and his influence during the charity’s formative years (he was president from 1854 to 1870), ensured an enduring foundation and a charity which now supports over a thousand beneficiaries.
Dickens understood the plight of the “newsman” and was passionate about helping those who brought the news to the masses, when they fell on hard times. Established in 1839 to look after newspaper street sellers when they had to give up work through age or infirmity and had nothing to live on, the charity was initially called the News vendors’ Benevolent & Provident Institution, but the long name soon proved too wordy for most and the charity became known as ‘Old Ben’ – a nickname that endures to this day.
The newspaper and magazine industry is changing rapidly, but the core of the business remains with the printed word; companies are still reliant on circulation sales and the charity still protects those who are out from early morning to late at night.