Paul Hamlyn Foundation at 25

During a celebrated career as a publisher and entrepreneur, Paul Hamlyn developed successful businesses alongside a deep commitment to philanthropy. In April 1987 he created the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to focus his charitable activities.

In his lifetime the Foundation made many grants, initiated some significant pieces of work, and supported several important organisations.

On his death in 2001, Paul Hamlyn bequeathed much of his estate to the Foundation, enabling it to grow into the organisation it is today. This year, as we mark the Foundation’s 25th anniversary, we have made a series of gifts, which are detailed in the boxes on the right of the next five pages. Each relates to the values the Foundation holds, which themselves stem from Paul Hamlyn’s life and career.

A glance across a selection of key grants from the Foundation’s past gives perspective to our recent activities, but also allows us to compare PHF’s work today with its earlier activities. So, what difference has 25 years made to PHF?

Expanding access to the arts

Paul Hamlyn believed passionately that everyone should be able to enjoy high quality. It was an ethos that made his career as a publisher of popular books so successful, and that was carried forward into the Foundation. It is a value recognisable throughout the Foundation’s history, and perhaps most easily characterised during PHF’s early years in the famous ‘Hamlyn nights’ at the Royal Opera House, at which tickets were heavily subsidised for disadvantaged people, to enable them to attend a show. Subsidised ticketing, at Covent Garden and elsewhere, continued into the Foundation’s funding programmes, enabling it to have significant impact on audience development schemes across the country.

Ruth Mackenzie, Director of the Cultural Olympiad in 2012, was Executive Director at Nottingham Playhouse from 1990–97. With a grant from PHF in 1992, she was able to open up the theatre to the city’s black and Asian communities, radically transforming the profile of visitors to the venue.

In an interview for the Paul Hamlyn Oral History project, she said: “For me the genius of Paul Hamlyn was to have the courage to say the work itself, the art, the performances, are untouchably accessible – they will touch your heart whoever you are. The barriers are class-based and artificial, and are about price and snobbery, and you can overcome them if you have determination, vision and a bit of money.”

After six years of work with the Foundation, 60 per cent of Nottingham Playhouse audiences were under 30, and the proportion of the audience from ethnic minorities was the same
as in the wider community.

Education focus

In 1991 the Foundation launched its first large-scale initiative, in the form of the National Commission on Education. In a presidential address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1990, PHF trustee (then advisor) Claus Moser called for “an overall review of the education and training scene: a review which would be visionary about the medium and long- term future facing our children and this country, treating the system in all its interconnected parts; and, last but not least, considering the changes in our working and labour market scenes.”

The idea gained traction and an independent enquiry was established. Its members divided into working groups looking at a wide range of areas and types of education. The Foundation funded the initiative to the tune of £1m – its largest single grant to that point. The commission’s report was published in 1993 as ‘Learning to Succeed’.

David Blunkett, Labour Education Secretary from 1997–2001, knew Paul Hamlyn during the 1990s, and was influenced by some of the commission’s findings, particularly on early years provision. Speaking to the Paul Hamlyn Oral History project, he said: “It [the commission] drew on analysis and the thinking that we really did need to invest … in providing an equal start for young people.” The commission’s report, he continued, was influential in the establishment of the Sure Start programme for early years provision in 1998.

Other recommendations also came to pass. The contribution of university attendees to the cost of their continuing education was identified as a key to
the future sustainability of the sector – although the model of payments proposed differed from the tuition fees now levied. The Foundation’s recent focus on higher education has highlighted the need for greater academic engagement at many Higher Education Institutions, in order to increase the likelihood of individuals staying on at university and maximising their potential to thrive and pursue the further opportunities that university education can provide.

Indian presence

Opening up opportunities to experience the best things in life was not just something Paul Hamlyn did in the UK. He had a love for India, having travelled there for business and pleasure, and was keen that the Foundation should also help people there. As a small foundation working in a country of such massive size, having meaningful impact is difficult. But in the early 1990s, he discovered the ‘Jaipur Foot’, a low-cost technology for prosthetic legs, then in its early stages of development. A fruitful partnership was born: with regular funding from PHF, BMVSS – the organisation that manufactures and fits the Jaipur Foot – has grown to help hundreds of ordinary people each day to live their lives more fully, by giving them back their mobility and independence. In the intervening years it has treated 1.3 million people in India, with the technology rolled out to partner sites in other developing countries.

Many who knew Paul Hamlyn spoke of his commitment to backing people who he strongly felt to have the potential to take forward good ideas, both in business and in philanthropy. One of the defining features of BMVSS was its leadership. Mr DR Mehta, a leading public servant with the Indian government, set up the organisation in 1975, and is today its lead honorary volunteer. Paul Hamlyn recognised his qualities and supported his ideas.

Support for innovators

This backing of innovative ideas and dynamic leaders has continued in other areas. Another organisation to be supported early on by the Foundation was The Reading Agency. Founded in 2002, it too has celebrated an anniversary during 2012/13. The Foundation supported it with grants of £94,000 and £96,000 as it built itself into a leading organisation using books and reading to benefit marginalised people. It also received funding through the Foundation’s Special Initiative in this area, the Reading and Libraries Challenge Fund (begun in 2003), which worked with a range of organisations and institutions to find ways to encourage reading. Books, reading and libraries all link strongly back to Paul Hamlyn’s career so it is appropriate that we are supporting The Reading Agency with an anniversary gift.

Other organisations backed by the Foundation early in their lives were Teach First, which since 2002 has brought more than 4,000 gifted graduates into the teaching profession, and the Prison Radio Association, which the Foundation funded at its inception in 2006, having previously been a supporter of its predecessor Radio Feltham. PRA has gone on to become a leading organisation working with prisoners throughout the UK and its productions – developed and hosted by prisoners – are regularly recognised by the broadcast industry.

More recently, the Foundation was the first to fund new organisations such as Music and Change in London, which has been recognised for its success in developing new ways to support the mental health of young people at risk of involvement in crime.

Innovative grant-making

Whilst keen to support innovators, the Foundation has itself been innovative in its grant-making.

The PHF Awards for Artists, begun in 1994, are unique in their approach to funding, in that they recognise the contribution of artists to society and seek simply to enable them to continue their practice. The ‘no-strings’ support, offered over three years to a group of artists, has had significant impact on the recipients’ lives and work. Initially the scheme rotated art form, with awards going to groups of poets, sculptors and choreographers, but from 1998 the format settled on five visual artists, with a group of three composers supported alongside them from 2007. The prolonged focus on just a couple of areas has meant that the awards have become established as an important, and highly respected, source of support for the sector.

A more recent example of innovative giving is seen in the Breakthrough Fund, which began in 2007. Focusing not on artists but on ‘cultural entrepreneurs’ – those people behind the scenes within organisations who make great work happen – the Breakthrough Fund has challenged traditional models of funding by backing individuals based on their vision, passion and track record, but without requiring up-front plans for funded activity.

Programme development

Grant-making in the arts and education, and in India, have been clear themes from early in the Foundation’s history. But the Foundation’s grant-making also consistently served a social purpose. Paul Hamlyn’s own experiences – of life as a refugee from Germany, of serving as a Bevin Boy in Wales during the Second World War, and of being seen as an outsider during his business career – played a part in shaping this characteristic. In 2007 the Foundation made the theme more explicit by launching a distinct programme addressing social injustice. The creation of the Social Justice programme opened up new ways in which the Foundation worked to help people.

Two particular themes of the programme, addressed currently through Special Initiatives, are mental health and migration. The initiatives demonstrate how the programme has introduced new approaches to grant-making. Right Here, focusing on young people’s mental health, has developed innovative partnership models between young people’s service providers and young people themselves, enabling a level of empowerment rarely seen as they play a key role in developing new services to better meet their needs. The Supported Options Initiative addresses the complex set of challenges faced by undocumented young people, growing out of research commissioned on their experiences. Both feature large online projects in which young people are engaged through digital technology – an approach reflecting the need for grant-makers, like all organisations, to adapt approaches over time.

The Social Justice programme has taken on work across a range of settings, concerned mostly with young people on the fringes of society who need help to integrate and make the most of life’s opportunities. The riots of summer 2011 gave a graphic demonstration of how alienated some young people are – and led to the development by Tate of Circuit, which will roll out through a national partnership to engage young people in the arts. We are supporting the scheme with an anniversary gift.

25 years on

So what has changed in the last 25 years? Clearly the world is a very different place. Today we have civil partnerships, the internet, and social media. In 1987, the Roundhouse was lying dormant and Tate Modern was a disused power station. The Foundation itself has certainly changed: it has more staff, more programmes, spends more money, and approaches grant-making more strategically. But perhaps some parallels can be drawn. We are again facing serious economic difficulty, with high youth unemployment. There are challenges still to be met, in providing access to the arts, in ensuring that all children are able to benefit from education, and in making sure that marginalised young people are provided with opportunities to participate more fully in society. And while rapid economic growth may make India in 2013 virtually unrecognisable to that of the 1980s, the persistence of social inequality and poverty among that country’s vast population mean that the Foundation’s work there is as relevant as ever.

Above all, the values of the Foundation have remained. True to its founder, PHF still backs dynamic risk-takers, still funds innovative work in the arts and education, still operates in India and still has a fierce sense of social justice. It is impossible to predict what another 25 years will bring – there may be a completely different context for philanthropy, different socio-economic challenges, more or less state support for the arts – but we can say with confidence that the values underpinning so much of what the Foundation has done to date will still be relevant.