The meeting that led to the creation of Oxfam

thisisoxfordshire: Katharine Ross was there at the beginnings of Oxfam, which is 70 years old today. At the age of 90 she still knits blankets for the charity’s Summertown shop to sell. Picture: OX54695 Jon Lewis Buy this photo Katharine Ross was there at the beginnings of Oxfam, which is 70 years old today. At the age of 90 she still knits blankets for the charity’s Summertown shop to sell. Picture: OX54695 Jon Lewis

WHEN 20-year-old Katharine Ross went to a meeting in her local church 70 years ago, little could she have known what it would start.

The meeting, at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin in High Street, saw the birth of the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief.

Now she is among those celebrating seven decades of the existence of Oxfam, as the charity would become known.

Ms Ross, who is 90 and lives in Summertown, said: “I was a member of the church’s congregation and we were told about the meeting in a sermon.

“I went along because I found it very worrying that there was so much poverty.

“Around 40 people must have come to the meeting and it was very cramped. I remember there was a lot of concern about babies dying in India.”

The first meeting of the committee was held during the Second World War, on October 5, 1942, with Canon Theodore Richard Milford as the chairman.

Shortly after attending the meeting, Ms Ross was called up to serve in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. But when she returned, she started going from house to house asking people to support Oxfam.

She said: “I find it amazing that the charity has now reached its 70th birthday. What I find great is when I go to places like Glasgow and see the name Oxfam on the shops.”

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For the past six years, the former Dragon School pupil has been knitting blankets and taking them to her local Oxfam shop in Banbury Road.

Ms Ross’s father was Sir David Ross, who was Provost of Oriel College and Vice-chancellor of Oxford University.

During the Second World War, her family took in people who were fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe and this is what she credits with sparking her interest in the Committee for Famine Relief.

The first task the newly formed committee gave itself was to raise money for Greece, which had been occupied by the Axis powers of Germany and Italy.

Oxfam responded to its first emergency in a developing country in 1951 – a famine in the Bihar state of eastern India.

Within six years of being founded, Oxfam – as it became in 1965 – opened the UK’s first permanent charity shop at 17 Broad Street, Oxford.

Cumnor man Joe Mitty was the charity’s first paid employee, working at the shop from 1949-1982. When he started at the shop it made £500 in its first year, but by 1953 it brought in more than £10,000 for good causes.

Oxfam GB now has more than 5,000 paid members of staff and an annual income of more than £380m. There are 14 other Oxfam organisations across the world.

The anniversary will be marked with a star-studded evening of entertainment at the Oxford Playhouse, Beaumont Street, on Sunday, October 14.

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