Foundation and History
The Besom was founded in 1987 by James Odgers, who left the law in London for Hong Kong to be part of a ministry (St Stephen's Society) caring for people coming out of heroin addiction. It was distressing to him to see the level of absolute human degradation faced by so many in that city, but also the chasm between those who had and those in need, and on the flight home he was left wondering what to do about it. It was then that he wrote down the mission statement of what would eventually become The Besom, that it should be a bridge between those who want to give money, time, skills or things; and those who are in need.
‘I remember distinctly feeling that I should establish a charity that helped people to give – rather than one that was directly focused on the poor. That way, lots of those in need could be helped whilst the many people who wanted to give but were never sure where their money went nor what it achieved, could also be encouraged by targeted giving … it never crossed my mind for a minute that there might be other sides to Besom later on – time and skills, urban gleaning and clothes and furniture and food. Nor that others might want to take up the idea in other parts of the country and abroad. It was just an old Tandy computer and me in my basement flat in London.’
The first Besom was thus born in the spare bedroom of James’ London flat, and now there are dozens of Besoms all over the country seeking to abide by the same principles and vision.
In terms of the name, James was originally nicknamed ‘Besom’ by his sisters as a child, as he was often to be found sweeping up leaves in the yard of their family home. The word ‘Besom’ in fact refers to a traditional broom made of twigs, giving rise to the strapline ‘sweep away suffering’. Perhaps in line with this mission statement, one of the word’s first recorded usages (by William Cowper in the 18th century) is in the sentence ‘Sweep thy soul clene with the besom of the drede of God’. It can also be found in one of the earliest editions of Matthew’s Gospel (Luke 11:25), dating back to around 1000 AD.