AS a former fundraiser, Ben Baxter is used to being avoided and ignored on the streets.
But now the University of Salford graduate is bringing his play ‘Chuggers’ – that was inspired by those experiences – to the Greater Manchester Comedy Festival next month.
It tells the story of two best friends with contrasting personalities who are fundraisers but desperate to fulfil their inner ambitions.
The 25-year-old was a ‘chugger’ – widely known as ‘charity muggers’ – on the streets of Manchester for a year until quitting the job recently.
Ben, who graduated with a degree in Drama and Theatre in 2014, had barely done any writing during his studies but realised how much he enjoyed it – and his debut show proved a big hit at the Greater Manchester Fringe in July.
The idea behind it was to support the fundraisers who trawl the streets with clipboards persuading the public to give money to good causes.
“I was fundraising for a fantastic charity which I can’t unfortunately name and what surprised me the most on the streets is that the public give you so much grief,” Ben admitted.
“They tell you this and swear at you and call you every name under the sun.
“It’s not very good and I wanted to stand up for fundraisers and give them a good name to explain to people why we need street fundraising and why it’s effective because people don’t always think it is and think they’re just being a nuisance.
“Sometimes they can possibly be a bit of nuisance but they get results and do a lot of good work.”
Ben gave up street fundraising a month ago and is now working as a personal trainer for the Pure Gym in Manchester but sympathises with those who still do the ‘difficult’ job.
“I see them on the street and I think ‘my god look what they have to put up with’ and what they actually do is get people to donate money via direct debit which is a difficult job,” he said.
“I want people to understand what goes on behind the life of a fundraiser. They’re not just guys on the street, they are humans who have a job to do, so it’s the underlining theme behind the play.”
Although he understands shoppers getting ‘annoyed’ by some ‘negative’ fundraisers as they go about their business, Ben believes all they have to do is be polite.
“I can understand why people can sometimes get annoyed but, at the end of the day, the way I see it is that for two seconds of their day they just need to turn around and say ‘no sorry’. That’s all they have to say. They just need to be polite about it.
“Fundraisers are polite and I’m sticking up for them, not the ones that aren’t polite because I’ve seen it in the past where fundraisers are trying to stop somebody and they’ve been very negative in the way they’ve done it.
“The majority of fundraisers, though, are lovely and very friendly – that’s the way they have to be.
“So when I see someone turn around to them, tell them to get stuffed and being abusive, there’s no need for that.
“People also use their grief, problems and issues with their mum and dad, you name it, they try to attack fundraisers with it and it can really get you down as a fundraiser.”
Leslie Ash, however, thinks their methods can be ‘too aggressive’ and ‘intrusive’ towards the public and believes the number of ‘chuggers’ should be reduced.
“A lot of the time they roam in packs. I can understand two or three but when you’ve got 12 or 15 stood on a street corner approaching everyone and anyone, it is too aggressive,” said the security guard from Ashton, Greater Manchester.
“They stopped the Big Issue sellers from roaming – they now have to stay in one place – so I think there should be limited numbers of ‘chuggers’ and they should stay at a designated spot.
“I think they’re very intrusive. They approach you in the street and, being a nice person I won’t just fob them off or be rude, but they can get too close and persistent which is off-putting.”
The 58-year-old has encountered street fundraisers on numerous occasions and almost applied to be one himself three years ago – but without realising.
“I was made redundant as a meter reader in 2012 and was applying for a job when I was aware I’d soon be unemployed,” he explained.
“It was with the RSPCA because of my interest in wildlife and ornithology – it looked very interesting until I looked into the details.
“It wasn’t really doing work for the charity but it was getting me to get money out of other people on the streets which I thought wasn’t good.
“I don’t mind talking to people about something I’m interested in but I don’t want to be putting pressure on people to part with their cash unless they really want to.”
Leslie acknowledged that ‘chuggers’ are merely doing their job but thinks charities would appeal to potential donators better through advertising.
“They’re only working and trying to earn a living at the end of the day but, when you weigh it up, these charities are supposed to be raising money for the charity and not paying money out to people to harass other people,” he added.
“People want to give to charities, I give to three charities and there are charities mentioned in my will so I think I’m doing my bit and I just want these people to leave me alone.
“The local hospice used to put adverts in newspapers and a big organisation could put an advert in a national newspaper for a fraction of the cost and it would reach far more people.
“The chuggers probably talk to 1500 people between them in a day whereas one newspaper could reach 40,000 people and it is there in black and white if people want to come back to it.”
Whether ‘chuggers’ are a genuine nuisance or the subject of unfair grief may ultimately be down to the approach of an individual as well as personal opinion.
But, as thousands of people pass through high streets every day, the issue of donating to charity is seldom avoided.
And street fundraising takes centre stage in Ben’s play ‘Chuggers’ on November 4 and 5 at the Three Minute Theatre in Afflecks Arcade, Manchester.