History of Oxfam

Explore the story of an extraordinary organisation, 70 years in the making...

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In the middle of World War II the Committee initially lobbies the government for the relaxation of the Allied blockade of occupied Europe, and to ensure the supply of vital relief to civilians, especially in Belgium and Greece.

Greek girl used in 1940s Greek Week campaign literature1943. Our first appeal

The Oxford committee launches ‘Greek Week’ and raises £10,700 for the Greek Red Cross. That’s more than £370,000 in current money – an incredible effort from one city in wartime Britain.

'Save Europe Now' flag1945. ‘Save Europe Now’ campaign launches

Famine committees around the UK – including in Oxford – get behind the campaign to persuade the UK government to let Brits send food parcels to Germany.

First Oxfam Shop, Broad Street, Oxford1948. First Oxfam shop opens

17 Broad Street in Oxford is chosen as the site of the UK’s first permanent charity shop. It’s still open today – and still depends on our brilliant volunteers.

1949. Oxford committee goes global

Well, almost. As the US Marshall Plan takes effect, most of the famine committees around the UK call it a day. The Oxford Committee fights on, boldly pledging to relieve “suffering arising as a result of wars or other causes in any part of the world”.


Leslie Kirkley1951. Leslie Kirkley becomes General Secretary

And so begins his 24-year tenure at Oxfam, during which he transforms the organisation from a local charity into a world-renowned aid agency. His efforts later earn him a CBE, a knighthood and – less famously – a meeting room named in his honour at Oxfam HQ.

Lesley Kirkly in Bihar1951. Famine hits Bihar, India

For the first time, the Oxford Committee responds to an emergency in a developing country.

Greek earthquake1953. First emergency response

We launch our first response to a disaster, in this case an earthquake in the Ionian Islands in Greece. Leslie Kirkley himself (see 1951) flies out to assess the damage.

Oxfam in Africa1954. Support for Africa

Struggling communities in Algeria, Kenya and Tanzania are given financial support, as our work reaches Africa for the first time.

Oxfam in Ecuador1958. Support for South America

True to its aims to provide relief wherever it’s needed, the Oxford Committee funds its first project in Brazil.

Oxfam in the classroom1959. Oxfam takes to the classroom

With the 1960s fast approaching, the Oxford Committee appoints ‘Regional and Schools Organisers’. We’ve been inspiring local groups and students to get fired up about poverty and injustice ever since.

World Refugee Year1959. World Refugee Year

With many Europeans still living as refugees after WWII, Oxfam General Secretary Leslie Kirkley is appointed Chairman of UK Publicity for the national campaign to ‘close the camps’. Oxfam’s involvement helps build our reputation across the UK.


Chocolate1960. Pledge giving begins

Our small army of ‘pledge giving’ collectors begin asking neighbours and workmates to give a shilling a month in return for a small newsletter. Within four years, 26,000 collectors are raising £200,000 from 300,000 pledged givers.

1961. Congo captures hearts

£20,000 arrives in the mail in one day in response to press coverage and an appeal for the famine in Congo.

The Beatles participate at Oxfam's Hunger £Million1963. Beatlemania hits Oxfam

Heard of The Beatles? No, us neither. Still, they were kind enough to get involved in Oxfam’s Hunger £Million campaign back in 1963, apparently. Very decent of them. Whoever they are.

1963. Oxfam Canada founded

The first of the international Oxfams is launched. Today, we’re a confederation of 15 organisations working in 92 countries worldwide.

1963. Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) formed

In the wake of the Skopje earthquake disaster in the former Yugoslavia, the DEC is formed, consisting of Oxfam, the British Red Cross, Christian Aid and War on Want. To this day, the DEC coordinates UK agencies’ responses to disasters.

Oxfam Activities launched1964. Oxfam Activities is launched

Oxfam shops start selling handicrafts and Christmas cards made in developing countries, giving small-scale producers fair prices, training, advice and funding. This later becomes the Oxfam Fair Trade Company – and the rest is history. Not to mention a massive, world-changing success.

Oxfam Christmas cards1965. Oxfam is, er, born

OK, so you may have noticed that we did actually exist before 1965. But as we mentioned earlier – it wasn’t until 1965 that Oxfam was formally adopted as the Oxford Committee’s new name.

Walking to support Oxfam1966. Sponsored walks boost Bihar

Oxfam’s response to floods in India is supported by £50,000 generated by a growing number of sponsored walks. Youth Groups are also playing a big part in what we do – there are now 100 across the UK.

Chocolate1967/8. First Latin American office

With Oxfam’s reach and reputation continuing to grow, we set up our first office in Latin America – in Lima, Peru.

Chocolate1972. Big in Bangladesh

Following the creation of Bangladesh in January, we launch the biggest aid package in our history – £1 million for water transport, re-housing and agricultural support.

Chocolate1974. Wastesaver unveiled

Our Wastesaver Centre opens in Huddersfield, with pioneering facilities for recycling donations. Today, the centre processes around 80 tonnes of used clothing every week.

Oxfam catalogue1975/76. No slowing down

The numbers just keep on growing... Total income is now more than £5 million... 600 shops raise more than £1 million… 16 Field Directors manage 800 projects overseas.

Oxfam's Move Against Poverty campaign1979. Campaigns department established

With Oxfam increasingly making a noise about the major causes of poverty, a campaigns department is set up, with area campaigners recruited in the early 1980s.

Oxfam in Cambodia1979. Cambodia hits the headlines

Public outcry follows a TV documentary showing conditions in Cambodia after the overthrow of the Pol Pot regime. Blue Peter launches an Oxfam-linked appeal, hoping to raise £100,000. Within three months, an incredible £3 million has been donated, and buys rice, seeds, tools, pumps and fertilisers.

Bitter Pills report1982. Bitter Pills published

We publish a new report on the relationship between pharmaceutical companies and poverty. It’s the latest in a series of books that helps bolster Oxfam’s reputation as a wide-ranging expert on development issues.

Chocolate1984. Famine in Ethiopia

Harrowing TV footage prompts unprecedented public support and a surge of interest in the crisis in Africa. Initiatives like Band Aid contribute to Oxfam’s response, and our income doubles in a single year – to £51 million.

Hungry for Change network1984. 'Hungry for Change'

Jonathan Dimbleby, Roy Hattersley, Ted Heath and Joanna Lumley help launch an initiative to raise funds and awareness for Oxfam’s food work. Within a year, Oxfam has a network of more than 300 groups nationwide.

The House of Commons [Photo: alancleaver_2000/Flickr]1985. Giant march on House of Commons

20,000 supporters of Oxfam and other charities join the biggest ever lobby (at the time) on parliament to call for more aid, especially to Africa. One million people sign a petition in support.

GADU newsletter1986. GADU gets going

It might not have the most glamorous name, but the launch of the Gender and Development Unit (or GADU) is definitely a landmark moment. GADU focuses money and attention on women’s development – a key element of Oxfam’s work to this day.

Red Nose Day at Oxfam1988. First Red Nose Day

Oxfam sells the plastic noses that quickly become synonymous with the biannual festival of life-changing comedy. We’ve been closely linked with Comic Relief since it was born in 1985 – and we still proudly stock their superlative scarlet snouts.

Chocolate1991. Cafédirect boils up

Oxfam collaborates with Traidcraft, Equal Exchange and Twin Trading to develop and launch Cafédirect, a Fair Trade coffee.

1992. Nobel Peace Prize nomination

In a fantastic recognition of our work to fight poverty worldwide, we’re nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Rigoberta Menchu wins the award for her work on ‘social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation’.

Chocolate1992. Fairtrade Foundation launches

Oxfam, CAFOD, Christian Aid, New Consumer, Traidcraft Exchange and the World Development Movement join forces to set up the Fairtrade Foundation and help support workers in poor countries.

Chocolate1993. Our first Glastonbury

We provide stewards at the Somerset festival for the first time, setting the foundations for a relationship that continues to this day. We’ve since provided stewards, campaigners and shop staff to more than 100 major UK events, raising £5.8 million in the process.

1994. Introducing Oxfam International

Oxfam UK and Ireland joins Oxfams based in Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada, Quebec, Hong Kong, Holland and Belgium to form Oxfam International.

1996. Oxfam goes online

What did we do before the internet? Well we didn’t use this website, for one thing. Not until 1996, anyway.

Jordan Asrif, 15, from the Clydebank region of Glasgow [Photo: Nick Danziger]1996. Charity begins at home

We open our UK poverty programme, supporting struggling communities at home and highlighting the links between poverty here and overseas.

Oxfam buckets1998. Buckets of brilliance

The Oxfam bucket, specially designed for use in emergency situations, is nominated for a Millennium Product Award.

Chocolate2001. Oxfam shop online

The Oxfam shop makes its first inroads into the digital age with a series of activities including online auctions. Six years later, Oxfam becomes the first UK charity to have a bespoke online shop.

Chris Martin2002. Fairplay in London

Chris Martin and Johnny Buckland from Coldplay, Noel Gallagher and Ms Dynamite perform at a special Oxfam benefit show to raise awareness of the Make Trade Fair campaign.

Oxfam Unwrapped goat2004. Oxfam Unwrapped unveiled

The first charity gift catalogue of its type, Oxfam Unwrapped enables people to give their friends and family gifts that benefit people in developing countries. It’s now raised more than £50 million.

Asian Tsunami relief2004. Asian Tsunami

The world looks on horrified as the extent of the damage is revealed. Many of our biggest emergency responses take place in this decade – in Asia, but also following earthquakes in Central America and India, and conflicts in the DRC, Uganda and Sudan.

Nelson Mandella addresses the crowds in Edinburgh2005. Make Poverty History

A huge year in the fight against poverty. 8 million people in the UK show their support by wearing the Make Poverty History white wristband. And at the G8 in Gleneagles, world leaders agree to increase aid and cancel the poorest countries’ debt.

Damon Albarn at Oxjam 20112006. Oxjam takes to the stage

Our first UK-wide music festival launches with 3,000 events, organised and promoted by supporters all over the country.

Control Arms demonstration, London2006. Arms Trade success

Supporters of Control Arms (a coalition between Oxfam, Amnesty International and IANSA) celebrate a major victory as an overwhelming majority of the world’s governments vote to start work on an international Arms Trade Treaty.

Oxfam Be Humankind badges2008. We’re humankind

Oxfam launches the Be Humankind brand, to inspire support and encourage even more people to help end poverty for good.

Climate Change demonstration, Copenhagen2009. Climate change

We launch the Here & Now campaign ahead of the momentous UN climate discussions in Copenhagen. But despite 100 million people taking action with Oxfam globally, world leaders fail to deliver the climate deal that’s (still) desperately needed.

Akiru, DRC. Photo by Rankin2010. Rankin visits DRC

Celebrity photographer Rankin travels to the Democratic Republic of Congo with Oxfam for a second time, returning with stunning shots to help raise awareness of the impact conflict has had on people in the country.

London Marathon 20112011. Keep on running

Oxfam is chosen as the Charity of the Year for the Virgin London Marathon. More than 350 runners join our team and raise thousands of pounds for Oxfam projects around the globe.

Oxfam's GROW campaign2011. It’s go for GROW

Oxfams all over the world join up to launch the GROW campaign and help create a world where everyone always has enough to eat.

And next?...

Supporters like you have always made a huge contribution to our work and been there at the heart of everything we do. So - with your help - as long as there is poverty in the world, we'll keep on fighting it. And thanks, by the way, for everything you’ve done so far. It’s quite a story...

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