A look the work of the Leeds Community Foundation
PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 November 2018
It is better to give than to receive not just during the festive season, and Leeds is pretty good at it, as Richard Darn discovers.
Having worked in Leeds for more than 20 years I got to know the place pretty well. But it still managed to throw up an occasional surprise. Whilst lost in Holbeck, I stumbled upon the amazing Temple Works on Marshall Street. My jaw dropped when I spotted this remarkable landmark, for this is not your typical West Riding mill.
The Grade I frontage with its six stone pillars is all Egyptian and designed in homage to the Temple of Horus at Edfu. Built from 1836 the flax mill employed 3,000 people with its roof covered in turf and grazed by sheep to maintain internal humidity levels.
The entrepreneur behind this extraordinary monument was John Marshall. Whilst he was clearly an eccentric, he was also a philanthropist by the standards of the day. Marshall introduced a crèche along with classes for his younger workers and also banned corporal punishment.
He wasn’t alone in his altruistic instincts. Hunslet born self-made millionaire John Thomas North, who made his fortune in global mining operations, bought 12th century Kirkstall Abbey and then promptly donated it to the city in 1889. It remains a popular attraction and picnic spot.
Leeds City Square owes its existence to Colonel Thomas Harding (1843-1927), owner of the Tower Works with its magnificent Italianate towers (a centrepiece of Holbeck Urban Village). He paid for the square to be built and installed the famous statue of the Black Prince as its crowning glory. He was also a benefactor of Leeds Art Gallery.
And ever wonder why the white Portland stone headquarters of Leeds University is called the Parkinson Building? Step forward Frank Parkinson - a former student and industrialist – who donated £200,000 to his alma mater in 1938. Many others have also made their imprint by good works.
Linen importer Michael Thomas Sadler campaigned to improve conditions for child workers resulting in the 1833 Factory Act that limited working hours. A century later Leeds clothing magnate, Montague Burton, originally a Lithuanian migrant, enforced an eight-hour day and provided free dental care and sun-lamp treatments for staff!
In fact when you look at the history of the city you’ll find as many do-gooders as penny pinching Mr Gradgrinds, whose morality was determined solely by a balance sheet. Of course these days much of Leeds industry is owned by global companies so has the zeal to give diminished?
Well surprisingly not according to the new chief executive of the Leeds Community Foundation, Kate Hainsworth. A business women herself she heads up the charitable organisation which acts as a broker between corporate givers and good causes in Bradford as well as Leeds.
The scale of local largess really is quite staggering. Last year the Foundation awarded 600 grants worth a total of £3.3million, fuelled by benefaction from local companies, individuals and the public sector. Past projects have included the revamp of an old fire station as a community centre with a cookery school, a friendship and dating agency for adults with learning disabilities and projects to tackle the relatively high rate of male suicide.
The endowment left by the late Jimi Heselden OBE, Halton Moor born miner who became a successful businessman and owner of the Segway brand, is just one source of ongoing funding.
Businesses and individuals can also become Foundation supporters through its 100 Club. A brief look at the member’s list reveals some of the region’s corporate big hitters, hi-tech companies and developers. The numbers continue to grow and will soon hit the 200 mark, bolstered by companies from Bradford, where the Foundation has launched a ‘Give Bradford’ initiative.
Kate Hainsworth said: ‘My grandparents were from Leeds so I’ve always felt very aligned both to the job and the area. A big motivation is seeing that you can make a real difference to people’s lives. We all care about society, I know business does massively. But it is knowing what to do about it. I think that is where this organisation does a really good job. It is able to put people who want to do something in touch with the reality of what they can do.’
Community giving in the past may have been high profile, but these days much of the good work goes on beneath the radar. Even modest grants can make all the difference, whether tackling loneliness amongst the elderly or inspiring youngsters in the arts. But even so for every one grant awarded by the Foundation, two more projects could have been funded if the money was there.
Kate adds: ‘We have a number of funds as we found that people who want to give wanted something they could have ownership of. For people, firms or individuals who want to set up a charitable arm there is a lot of work to be done. We can do that for them. It runs under our charity number, we do the due diligence and they have the opportunity to run a fund in their name with particular purposes.’
Of course Leeds is not the only Yorkshire city with a proud record of charitable acts by business leaders. Saltaire – the model worker’s village and mill built by Sir Titus Salt from 1851 - is perhaps the best known example of capitalism with a human face anywhere in the world. And let’s not forget Halifax, where Sir Francis Crossley created the People’s Park in 1857 so that art and nature ‘shall be within the walk of every working man in Halifax’.
So when you are fully immersed in the Christmas spirit don’t forget it really is better to give than to receive and memories of good acts last a long time.
Find out more about The Leeds Community Foundation at leedscf.org.uk.