The City of London’s Commitment to Charity

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As we enter the Christmas period, and with it the season of thinking of others, generosity and making gifts, I would like to reflect on some of the charitable activities undertaken in the City.

One of the impacts of the global pandemic this year has been the pronounced rise in the number of people struggling with the cost of living. In March alone, one million people made new claims for Universal Credit, which is 700% higher than the monthly average1. WPI Economics also report widening inequality – the rate of unemployment benefits claims from the most deprived 10% of London neighbourhoods has increased 2.5 times faster than in the least deprived 10%2 since March. This makes for hard reading, but also poses an important challenge to the City of London and its tenants: what can we do about it?

While the City is known for its powerful generation of business, what often gets forgotten is the rich history of charitable activity in many of its institutions, that continues today. Forerun by the parochial charities of the traditional 112 parishes in the ‘Square Mile’3, charity work in the City proliferated into numerous companies and trusts that have allocated funds to serve the poorest and the most vulnerable in the capital. These include the 110 Livery Companies, who, from their creation, demonstrated an exemplary commitment to care for their members in sickness and old age. In recent times, they have greatly expanded their charitable aims and grant-making, to the tune of £40m per year4. Two other modern charitable leaders in the City are ‘Trust for London’ (formerly ‘The Trustees of the London Parochial Charities’) and ‘City Bridge Trust’ (formerly ‘The Bridge House Estates’) which was released from its strict bridge-building mandate in 1995, permitting it to use surpluses for wider purposes in Greater London. ‘City Bridge Trust’ is now London’s biggest independent grant giver, making charitable grants of £25m a year to tackle disadvantage across the city5.

Earlier in my career, I had the privilege of being involved with both trusts, and I have also served on Charity Committee at the Haberdashers’ Livery Company. From this time, I have witnessed the great influence the City has on communities when it channels its financial muscle towards supporting effective charities and promising targeted local initiatives.

The annual sum of £35m granted by the two Trusts is dispersed to a plethora of causes, spanning decent living standards and community buildings, to the amplification of under-represented or marginalised voices. However, underlying every provision of finance is a commitment to high-impact solutions which target the root causes of poverty and inequality, based on sound data. To this end, the Trusts have invested heavily in research and expertise. For example, Trust for London invested in the redevelopment of the ‘London Poverty Profile’, the UK’s first independent assessment of poverty6, to inform borough-specific, targeted strategies.

Bharat Mehta CBE, Chief Executive at Trust for London: “While we want to be the life-raft for those in difficulty, we also want to be assessing the root causes of those difficulties”.7

The Trusts also allocate substantial funds to strategic advice and durable support. Trust for London allocated 42% of their 2019 grants towards these ends8, while City Bridge Trust invests in services that work to relieve people from heavy legal or financial burdens and crippling first obstacles.

There is also a healthy emphasis on self-sustainability in much of the trusts’ funding. For example, City Bridge Trust has a ‘Stepping Stones Fund’, which seeks to provide grants or risk finance to test out the viability of different business propositions. This fund has been awarded over £3 million since 2014 and was the winner of the 2018 Charity Times Award for best “Social Investment Initiative”9. Likewise, Trust for London make an appeal to organisations seeking investment “to help them develop sustainable work with positive outcomes for society.10” A thriving case study is The Foundry building at Vauxhall – a venue of office, meeting, and conference space for social justice and human rights organisations – which received finance from Trust for London and Rathbones.

Bharat Mehta CBE: “Bought for £12m in 2015, the market price of ‘The Foundry’ is now £17m, offering us a good return for future grant-making activity.”11

It is pleasing to see that these charitable institutions have answered the heightened call to action during the pandemic. At times, this has involved a hike in donations: notably, £1 million donations by City Bridge Trust and Trust for London to the London Community Response Fund, which offers financial support for civil society groups. Additionally, the Haberdashers’ Benevolent Fund matched any charitable donations made by Haberdasher members between March 23rdand June 1st. The result was a £25,226 donation, contributing to the total of £59,000 (including gift aid) spread across 38 charities12. At other times, it has involved the rekindling of a pan-livery collective spirit. Just one example of this is the NHS Livery Kitchens Initiative, which involves the Merchant Taylors’ Company, the Drapers’ and Grocers’ Companies joining forces to provide around 500-600 meals a day to the staff at Barts Health Trust hospitals13.

Another significant recent contribution made by the City’s charitable funds is the projection of their voices to defend the vulnerable. Following a letter written to Secretary of State Robert Jenrick in June by a coalition involving City Bridge Trust and Trust for London, which appealed for an eviction ban, the government increased notice periods to six months – a move which should keep many from becoming homeless this winter. Advocacy work is multiplying, with the Trust for London also funding a new Commission seeking to produce a White Paper setting out a better way to deliver social security in the UK that is more sensitive to the everyday demands of recipients14.

On a personal note, last month I became a trustee at Clergy Support Trust. Clergy Support Trust is the UK’s largest and oldest clergy support charity, whose purpose is to promote, sustain and renew the wellbeing of Anglican clergy, whether serving or retired, and their family members. The Clergy do some amazing work in the City and across the wider country, providing emotional and practical support to thousands of people in their congregations, and by extension, thousands more in the parish communities who benefit from church members’ commitment to care for their neighbour.

However, to flourish in their roles as leaders and meet the high demands of the job, the clergy must have adequate resources and support. That is why the Trust gave out grants amounting to £3.1m to clergy and their family members last year, £1.9m of which went to addressing situations where the clergy stipend was insufficient to cover the family’s outgoings. Yet there is still much more to do with financial difficulty and psychological stress remaining at excessive levels15. Therefore, I am excited to partner with the trustees in their aim to double the number of beneficiaries from 2018 and build a wider partnership base for the future.

I hope that the recent charitable work of the City encourages you to give generously to those less fortunate this Christmas. In a time when the wounded third sector is struggling to meet the unprecedented need brought on by Covid-19, our generosity and donations have perhaps never been more important.

The Haberdashers

Trust for LondonCity Bridge TrustHaberdashers CompanyRathbonesLondon Community ResponseMerchant TaylorsDrapers' CompanyGrocers' CompanyNHS Barts HealthClergy Support Trust


1 Resolution Foundation, No Work, No Pay. Accessible via: https://www.resolutionfoundation.org/publications/no-work-no-pay/

2 Trust for London, COVID-19: Widening inequalities across the Capital. Accessible via: https://www.trustforlondon.org.uk/news/covid-19-widening-inequalities-across-capital/

3 Wikipedia, Trust for London. Accessible via: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trust_for_London

4 Liverycompanies.info, Livery Companies of the City of London. Accessible via: http://www.liverycompanies.info/charities.html

5 London.gov.uk, Mayor contributes £1m to new emergency support fund. Accessible via: https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/mayor-contributes-1m-to-emergency-support-fund

6 See more at: https://www.trustforlondon.org.uk/data/

7 Personal contact with Bharat Mehta, 05/11/2020

8 Trust for London, Reflecting on our 2019 grant making. Accessible via: https://www.trustforlondon.org.uk/news/reflecting-our-2019-grant-making/

9 City Bridge Trust, Stepping Stones Fund. Accessible via: https://www.citybridgetrust.org.uk/what-we-do/social-investment/stepping-stones-fund/

10 Trust for London, Social Investment. Accessible via: https://www.trustforlondon.org.uk/funding/capital-london/

11 Personal contact with Bharat Mehta, 05/11/2020

12 The Haberdashers’ Company. Haberdasher Members Raise Nearly £60,000 for Charities Since Start of Lockdown. Accessible via: https://www.haberdashers.co.uk/news/haberdasher-members-raise-nearly-£60000-charities-start-lockdown

13 Merchant Taylors, NHS Livery Initiative. Accessible via: https://www.merchant-taylors.co.uk/news/NHS-Livery-Initiative

14 Trust for London, The Commission on Social Security led by Experts by Experience. Accessible via: https://www.trustforlondon.org.uk/news/commission-social-security-led-experts-experience/

15 See https://www.clergysupport.org.uk/overview for more information and statistics.