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History of Oxfam

75 years. One amazing movement to end poverty.

1942

Oxfam is born. Ever since, determined people like you have kept up the vital work started that night – and changed so many lives worldwide.

1943

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.

1945

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.

1948

We open the UK's first charity stop. Today, 23,000 amazing volunteers run 650 shops nationwide.

1948

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”.

1951

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 and a knighthood.

1951

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

1953

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.

1954

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

1958

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

1959

Our first schools organiser starts work. Today, teachers and students play a vital part in raising awareness of poverty and running fundraising events.

1959

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’.

1960

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

£20,000 arrives in the mail in response to our press adverts about famine in Congo. Your incredible support has saved countless lives in emergencies ever since.

1961

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.

1963

Oxfam Canada, the first of the international Oxfams is launched. Today, we’re a confederation of 19 organisations working in around 90 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.

1964

Oxfam shops start selling handicrafts from developing countries. Today, 1.65 million workers worldwide are part of a certified Fairtrade scheme.

1965

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.

1966

Oxfam's response to floods in Bihar, 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.

1968

Our 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.

1972

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.

1974

Our recycling plant opens in Huddersfield. 12,000 tonnes of donated clothes we can't sell now come here each year – and nothing goes to landfill.

1976

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.

1976

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.

1979

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.

1979

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.

1982

We publish a new report, 'Bitter Pills', 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.

1984

After the horror of the famine in Ethiopia shocks the world, supporters donate £12.5m in four months – enabling us to provide urgent help to thousands of people.

1984

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.

1985

Super supporter Barbara Walmsley sets up the first Oxfam bridal shop in a converted bedroom in her house. 11 bridal shops now ensure families worldwide don’t face poverty alone.

1985

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.

1986

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.

1988

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 ever since.

1991

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

1992

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’.

1992

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.

1993

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

We launch the £2-a-month scheme – and with thousands more people donating, we can help even more families leave poverty behind for good.

1994

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

1996

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

1996

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

1998

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

2001

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.

2002

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.

2004

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.

2004

The Asian Tsunami inspires an unprecedented public response, funding urgent help – from blankets to water – and long-term projects – like rebuilding schools.

2005

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.

2006

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

2006

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.

2008

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

2009

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.

2010

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.

2011

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.

2011

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

2017

Thanks to you, we're moving closer and closer to a world where no one lives in extreme poverty. See exactly how we helped this year.

Oxfam today