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Finding out where your money goes when giving to Buckinghamshire good causes

PUBLISHED: 10:16 27 November 2014 | UPDATED: 16:11 23 March 2015

Heart of Bucks patron Sir Terry Wogan with Denys Williams of FOCUS, a charity providing a refuge for homeless families

Heart of Bucks patron Sir Terry Wogan with Denys Williams of FOCUS, a charity providing a refuge for homeless families

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When we give to local good causes, who does our money help? Jo Neville joined a rather special minibus trip around the county to find out

Philanthropist Mike Clare founded The Clare Charity Centre so various charities could work together from one base, share expertise and collaborate where possiblePhilanthropist Mike Clare founded The Clare Charity Centre so various charities could work together from one base, share expertise and collaborate where possible

It’s not often that you share a minibus with a Countess and a High Sheriff but then, a ‘Seeing Is Believing’ trip with Heart of Bucks is an unusual experience. One bright September morning, I was fortunate enough to join the foundation’s donors and trustees to see the difference they have made to local charities.

Heart of Bucks, also known as Buckinghamshire Community Foundation, encourages and enables local philanthropy. Since 2000 it has provided £5m worth of grants and loans to over 1,600 groups throughout the county. Community spirit is thriving in Bucks, and as state funding decreases it is increasingly important that local communities support themselves.

However, it’s not just about giving. As Countess Howe, Chairman, says: “We want to enable charities to work well, and efficiently.” The foundation promotes better communication between charities with the aim of pooling resources and reducing overheads. Measurability is also fundamentally important. Richard Dickson, Director, explains: “Donors must see a definable, visible difference made by their donation. These trips allow that to happen.”

En route, Joe Barclay, High Sheriff for Buckinghamshire, tells me how inspiring the trips are. He is honoured to be High Sheriff and a Foundation Trustee. His commitment is clear; he recently raised £26,000 by undertaking a sponsored five-day bike ride visiting charities around the county.

Our first stop is the Wycombe Homeless Connection, based in Castle Street. Awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2014, the charity holds the firm belief that, ‘every individual has worth and deserves a fresh start.’ Dr Sheena Dykes, Chairman, says people find it hard to believe there is a homeless problem in Buckinghamshire and yet the charity helps 300 people every year in Wycombe alone.

As well as providing advice and practical support, the Connection runs a motivational programme to help individuals take positive steps to a better future. From January to March, local churches operate a rota offering a bed, warm food and clothing. Sheena says: “There are preconceptions that people bring it on themselves, but there are many reasons for homelessness, including relationship breakdown and redundancy.”

For example, John is an award-winning cameraman who worked on the Harry Potter movies. When his marriage failed he struggled to keep working and ended up homeless. The charity helped him get back on track. Funding from Heart of Bucks supports the charity’s ongoing costs and it is moving to hear the difference it makes. One man commented: “Without these people, I wouldn’t be here. I’m eternally grateful.”

As we head to our next stop, I asked Gabby Harman why she and husband, Tim, joint Managing Director of Annodata, chose to donate to the foundation. “I’m a local girl and Tim grew up in Bourne End. We both wanted to give something back to our community,” she reveals.

Giving something back is certainly what Mike Clare, entrepreneur and founder of The Clare Charity Centre has done. Mike was born and bred in Buckinghamshire and lives locally. After selling his company, Dreams, in 2008, he wanted to support good causes but realised that, despite fantastic intentions, charities lacked business skills. He decided the best way to help was to pass on his expertise and began to look for suitable premises.

Known by many as ‘the pill factory’, the Art Deco design building in Saunderton was originally owned by Johnson & Johnson (hence the nickname) who built it on the site of a Victorian workhouse. In 2009, Mike acquired the building and the Centre began. 30,000 square foot of office space stood empty. Now, five years later, the building is 90 percent occupied providing subsidised rates, mentoring and training for charities including Child Bereavement UK and Buckinghamshire Disability Service. They have also created the Charity Advisors Network, described as a ‘dating agency with a social purpose’ where professionals detail their areas of expertise and charities can approach them for voluntary help.

The scheme is innovative and effective. As David Lawrance, General Manager, says, the main aim is to help charities to work smarter, reduce their overheads and make sure that as much funding as possible reaches the beneficiaries. That is after all what people donate to charities for.

Our final destination is Saunderton Lodge, a refuge for homeless families. On arrival, the sun is shining and children are playing on the swings. Once an isolation hospital, it’s a peaceful setting and a world away from the traumatic situations that some of these families come from. Denys Williams, Chairman, says that they want to create a supportive environment where individuals can recuperate before rebuilding their lives.

Residents can stay for three to four months in the small flats and there are children’s paintings outside the doors, marking it as home. The flats are furnished by local charities and FOCUS, the charity supporting the lodge, provides a food basket for each family when they arrive. Hilary Bull, who has worked there for 37 years, says: “It’s not much, but when you arrive with nothing it feels like everything.”

Funding from Heart of Bucks helped to decorate the playroom. Once a drab, bare room, it is now colourful and full of creative materials. Here the residents take part in the Parents as First Teachers programme which provides the tools and skills to be effective role models for their children. Two residents I spoke to have professional qualifications and are desperate to find work. They also talked of the kindness and support given by staff and volunteers. Many stay in touch and one has recently completed an Open University degree. As Hilary says: “With the right support it’s always possible to start again.”

At the start of the day, the High Sheriff told me that the trips were inspirational. Having learnt more about Buckinghamshire’s strong community spirit and met the individuals who are making a real difference to people’s lives, I completely agree with him.

For more information or to get involved go to www.heartofbucks.org, www.wyhoc.org.uk, www.theclarefoundation.org or www.bucksvoice.net/focussaunderton

***

Countess Howe launches Bucks Local Gifts Scheme

Heart of Bucks held their annual reception at Waddesdon Dairy. Supported by Lord Rothschild and sponsored by Sarasin & Partners, the event showcased the achievements of the past year and revealed plans to raise £5m for local causes within the next five years.

Countess Howe launched the Local Gifts Scheme which follows the same principle as Oxfam Unwrapped, but within Bucks. For example, a £40 voucher will provide a one-to-one training session at Horses Helping People for a young person with autism. Hypnos Beds Ltd became the first members of the Corporate Champion scheme with their contribution of £5,000.

Four charities were present to discuss their plans with donors and trustees. Each guest then had the difficult decision of voting for the charity of their choice. The winner, Wendover-based Lindengate, promotes health and well-being through nature and horticulture. The £1,000 will provide a year-long bursary for an adult with mental health issues. Furze Down Trading, Thames Valley Partnership and Wheelpower each received £250.

If you would like to get involved, the Heart of Bucks fundraising ball will be held on 26 June 2015 at Hall Barn, Beaconsfield. For more information contact Vicky James on vjames@bucks.org.uk or 01296 330134.

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