A friend service for people with dementia in Redbridge; English classes for Somali refugee women; counselling for victims of school bullying in north west London.
All are charitable organisations that benefited from the City Bridge Trust’s latest round of grants when its board members met last November. Equally, they address issues that would have barely registered when the trust was founded as a maintenance fund for London Bridge in 1282.
Eight hundred years later and while the trust would still be responsible for the cost of rebuilding London Bridge should it ever actually fall down, the focus of its grant-making arm is now firmly set on bridging a gap far greater than the width of the Thames.
Much has been made of the changing face of disadvantage in Britain, now more than ever following the knowledge that by around midday on 4 January (known universally as ‘Fat Cat’ Wednesday), Britain’s top bosses had officially made more money than the average UK worker can hope to earn in an entire year.
It’s a diverse catalogue of needs that the City Bridge Trust – for which the City of London Corporation is the sole trustee – is aiming to address in its five-year strategic review, now entering the final stages of public consultation. The results of the consultation will serve as a framework for the trust’s funding strategy for 2018-23.
For director David Farnsworth, who oversaw the implementation of the last strategy during his four years in the role, the primary function of the review is to establish how the trust can allocate its resources – including a grants budget of £100million – most effectively to address problems faced by Londoners now and in the future.
“We operate across Greater London, working for Londoners who have, for different reasons, found themselves tackling disadvantage,” he says. “This review is really trying to establish how we can best be part of meeting those needs.” To date one of the trust’s primary functions has been as a grantmaker, awarding over 7,531 grants totalling more than £353,396,242 to 4,510 different organisations across the Capital since 1995.
More recently, it has expanded into social investment, research and philanthropic support; three functions David believes will play a growing role in the trust’s strategic future. “I see our role in bringing different sectors together as being more important now than ever,” David says.
“The retrenchment of funds from local authorities means councils are finding themselves unable to do what they want to do… and corporate social responsibility is of huge significance for the private sector – there’s a real business case for giving. “With a local authority as our trustee plus relationships with other councils, we are in a unique position to bring these stakeholders together.”
Like the organisation he heads, David’s own background puts him in a unique position to unite often opposing sectors for the greater good. His early career “divorcing rich people” at a City law firm gave him a thorough grounding in the thick of the private sector.
“After a couple in Kensington spent £40,000 arguing over a grandfather clock, I realised that wasn’t something I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” he says. A decade spent working in various capacities for charities working to support asylum seekers culminated in a five-year stint at the Diana Princess of Wales Fund, before taking on the position at the helm of the City Bridge Trust.
“It’s really by accident that the work of the trust aligns quite closely with my own experience across these different sectors – private, local government, charitable – but that reinforces my belief that each of them has a vital role to play.”
Every Friday he makes the effort to visit a charity that the trust has had a hand in supporting, drawing great pride from a hands on approach that unites different community causes through shared learnings. “Despite the geographical and political differences between some of these organisations, you get the sense that there’s this real tapestry of networks working in very nuanced ways to support Londoners,” he says.
“I think the next phase of work should have even more of a focus on strengthening those connections.” There’s still time to have your say on the City Bridge Trust’s annual review by completing the online survey at citybridgetrust.org.uk