Port community funds can create a real impact by supporting local charities and organisations. Felicity Landon reports
The idea of setting up a dedicated community fund, in preference to handing out ad hoc charitable donations, seems to be gaining ground in the ports sector.
Last month, the Port of Dover announced it had committed £250,000 to launch a new community fund, which will also benefit from an ongoing annual contribution of 1% of pre-tax profits. The fund was set up after a consultation exercise to gain feedback on what the local community wants, and key priorities included making a lasting effect, supporting skills development, supporting job creation and providing opportunity locally for young people.
“The Dover Harbour Board has always provided support in a number of ways to its local community,” says Dover's chief executive, Tim Waggott. “In the aftermath of the government's decision on [against] privatisation, the then Minister of Shipping, Stephen Hammond, announced in April this year that he would like to see Dover Harbour Board establish a community fund in line with other ports.
“We have subsequently consulted widely with community groups and individuals on how we can make such a fund work effectively for the whole area, and which areas the community would wish to see benefit.”
The merits of 'doing good' locally are obvious but is this also an important part of rebuilding relationships between port and local community, given the turbulent times in Dover in recent years? Mr Waggott says: “Naturally it is in our interests to continue to improve local relationships as we press forward with major development via the Dover Western Docks Revival. We see our transformational plans as a catalyst for game-changing regeneration in Dover and the wider area, but in the shorter term we want ordinary people directly benefiting from a fund established in our name, by fostering skills and training, and enriching the local community.”
While Dover's fund is a newbie, the Felixstowe Port Community Fund is now well established - founded in 2008, it recently announced that it has now awarded more than £250,000 in grants. This fund was created not just by the port itself but by a group of companies in and around the port, in order to pool their resources, support local charities and build a 'mutually supportive' relationship with the local community.
It is managed by the Suffolk Community Foundation, whose chief executive, Stephen Singleton, says: “It is certainly very unusual that organisations have come together like this, because often they could be seen to be competitors. But they sit around the table and make decisions and, by working together, they have created a significant fund to help Felixstowe and the surrounding area.
“So far they have given a total of 137 grants and supported 91 different organisations. What's really remarkable is that they are also building an endowment fund to help the community in perpetuity. It is the same principles as a trust fund - we use investment managers, and the interest and returns they have generated go into the grant-making programme.”
The members of the Felixstowe fund meet four times a year to discuss grant applications and decide which to support. In this, the Suffolk Community Foundation plays an important role. “We are the people who understand the voluntary sector, investigate the applications and assess the need, so the panel of business people can make decisions on what they want to support rather than worrying about the risk attached to it,” says Mr Singleton. “They want to put their money in the right place - we iron out the risk.”
The fund has supported projects such as Felixstowe Coastwatch, which monitors the beach and sea areas in Felixstowe and Harwich, and the East Anglian Sailing Trust - but also supports less visible projects such as Headway (for people with a brain injury), Cruse (for bereaved people) or the local women's refuge. “Typically our charities are grass roots charities with high volunteer levels, needing a relatively small amount of money but absolutely delivering vital services,” says Mr Singleton. “We don't mind handing out money to support day-to-day running costs - these charities need money to keep going and we recognise the value of what they do every day, as opposed to one-off projects to attract funding.”
One of the fund partners is port community system operator Maritime Cargo Processing (MCP), whose chief executive, Alan Long, says: “The Port Community Fund is a good idea for us because it means we can focus our contributions on the fund, rather than dealing with individual calls for help. It means the total pot we are able to use to help local charities is larger, and the collective impact is much greater. Also, we often fund causes that might be considered 'less fashionable' and not otherwise get funding.”
Claire Ling, marketing and sales manager at Cory Brothers, says: “As an agency, we have been in the community for such a long time and, when the fund was set up, it seemed to be the logical next step for us, to support and help our local community. Although we have always contributed in small ways, as part of a group we can achieve something so much bigger and long-term. Also, many of our own staff are connected with some of the groups supported by the fund, so it is helping them in the long-term too. And already there is going to be a legacy for the future.”
Mr Waggott says one of the key points to come out of a public workshop to discuss the Dover fund was that of securing match funding from other parties to support major initiatives. “Personally, I think the whole board would be delighted if other local organisations decided to follow our lead,” he says.
Meanwhile, the plan is for the Kent Community Foundation to administer the fund, but with a committee led by the Bishop of Dover confirming which projects and individuals should be supported. “It must be absolutely separate from the port's own administrative team, although we will be happy to promote the organisations which benefit from the fund,” he says.
The Port of Tyne has had a community fund in place for several years, but this was relaunched with a new focus after a research project in 2012.
“The port commissioned us to do the research because they were looking to focus their corporate giving to the needs of the community,” says Elaine Holdsworth, of the Tyne & Wear and Northumberland Community Foundation. “Three key issues came through: young people and employability; helping enrich community life; and improving the environment.
“We devised aims and objectives for the fund based around these themes and I manage the fund through the Community Foundation - assessing grant applications and carrying out due diligence, so that the staff panel at the port can make the decisions. The port made the decision to donate 1% of pre-tax profits to the fund, which is a significant amount. It is a really positive way to involve the staff, by giving them a say in how to distribute this income.
“The staff come from across the various parts of the business and bring different views and understanding of what is going on in their local communities. We give panel members the opportunity to go and visit projects recommended for grants. It is really helping staff on the panel to get a better understanding of the incredible range of projects in the community, but also of the impact they are making. This has been a really great model of corporate giving - the port really wants to support change in the community.”
Helping the seafarers
Community giving can go both ways, as demonstrated after the Seafarers’ Centre at Immingham was devastated by the North Sea storm surge in December 2013.
Soaked in several feet of seawater and covered in mud and slime, everything from computers and furniture to the chapel and the Christmas gifts being prepared for the seafarers was wrecked. The centre, in one of the lowest-lying parts of the port, was forced to close for nine months to be cleaned up, dried out and totally refurbished, and the mission was run on a ‘mobile’ basis, using a minibus, during that time.
“I was devastated when I saw the building for the first time following the surge,” says port chaplain Colum Kelly. “The place was destroyed – but, not only that, it was as if all of the joy and the happiness that the building had seen over the years had been completely washed away by the flood waters.”
News coverage of the destruction drew attention to the haven that the centre provides for seafarers away from home and families for months at a time.
There was an overwhelming response from local organisations and charities, which organised events and raised funds to help; subsequently, when the centre was finally reopened in September, it was fitted out and equipped to such a high standard that it has been described by visiting seafarers as the best they have seen.
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