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CAF Policy Team

A champion for charities

Charities Aid Foundation


24 October 2017

That was just one question we tried to examine this morning as Charities Aid Foundation teamed up with City Bridge Trust, London’s biggest grant maker, to host a special event at London's Guild Hall.

The event; 'the role of philanthropy in building London's civic identity’ forms part of CAF’s newly announced Giving for the City project, which aims to better understand and tackle the challenges facing our urban communities through the means of philanthropy. But what do we mean by that, and what did this morning’s event hope to achieve?

In short, there has been recognition right across the UK that many areas of the UK have suffered economic decline, as the traditional industries which fuelled their growth have slowly shrunk. This has not just had an impact on the economic standing of communities, but we have seen the ramifications reach far and wide – affecting community cohesion, integration, as well as standards of living, equality and arguably the welfare of citizens.

Policy makers have rightly started to think about ways of addressing this growing economic inequality, and there has been an increasing focus on initiatives such devolution, city deals and the introduction of programmes like the "Northern Powerhouse" and the "Midlands Engine." Yet one element that has been absent from many of the political discussions on this topic is philanthropy, and the role it can play in driving local investment into urban centres whilst simultaneously reigniting a notion of community and belonging.

This morning’s event wrestled with these issues and more, and whilst the panel of speakers which included Catherine McGuinness, Chair, Policy and Resources Committee, City of London Corporation; Kristina Glenn, Director of Islington Giving; Matthew Bowcock, CBE, trustee of the Hazelhurst Trust; Anna Maria Hosford, Strategist at the New Citizenship Project and CAF’s Rhodri Davies, did not have all of the answers, they certainly provided some food for thought for guests. Chief amongst topics for discussion were what role philanthropy should play in a shrinking state, as guests expressed some very real concerns that voluntary giving would be used to plug funding gaps in state provision of services. The panel also talked about how addressing real need is absolutely vital in any philanthropic programme - giving for the sake of giving in this sense then is ill advised. 

There was also a great deal of positivity flowing not just from speakers, but from those in the audience too. Guests from Long Live Southbank, the campaign responsible for saving the South Bank's famous undercroft and its diverse creative community, were real proof if any were needed that engaged citizens can make a difference. The rallying cry to the audience was very much about ensuring that any attempts to utilise philanthropy are done in collaboration with those it is designed to serve. In a city like London, people should be residents first and recipients second. 

As part of our ongoing work on this topic, CAF has launched its latest report in the Giving for the City series – Giving a Sense of Place – and we look forward to continuing this interesting debate with policy makers and others in London and the rest of the UK over the next few months.