Carnegie UK Trust
Interim Joint Chief Executive
Sir John Elvidge
Chair, Board of Trustees
Dear Mr. Carnegie,
I am writing to you from our office on the outskirts of Pittencrieff Park, a view you will have known well during your time in Dunfermline. The park that you bequeathed to the people of your hometown more than a century ago is as beautiful today, on a spring day, as it was then.
It is this view that the staff and trustees of the Carnegie UK Trust see when we come to the office to carry out the duty you bestowed on the organisation, to “improve the wellbeing of the masses,” back in 1913. Just out of sight of the office are your statue and the wrought-iron gates, named for Louise Carnegie, at the entrance to the park. The legacy you left behind is built into the fabric of the place where we work.
As with the other institutions that bear your name, you endowed us with many gifts. In addition to the financial endowment of $10 million in steel bonds, your foresight provided two less immediately tangible gifts which have had a lasting impact on the work of the UK Trust.
The first gift was the mission you gave us to improve the wellbeing of people of the UK and Ireland. The scope of wellbeing is unusually wide for a philanthropic organisation. Lord Shaw of Dunfermline, a member of the original Executive Committee, remarked at the time that the vagueness of the deed was terrifying.
The second gift was the faith you placed in the Board of the Trust to interpret what that mission meant. The deed sets out that trustees may “by such means as are embraced within the meaning of the word ‘charitable’ … from time to time select as best fitted from age to age for securing these purposes, remembering that new needs are constantly arising as the masses advance.” Our only restriction, apart from geographical coverage and charitable purposes, is that we must not support war or warlike preparations.
Time has proved these to be two tremendously valuable assets to have been given. By not requiring specific activities, and providing such a general mission statement, you enabled the trustees to adjust their approach over the years, just as you envisioned. The history of the UK can be charted through the work of the Trust. Early twentieth-century concerns around physical welfare gave way to concerns about social welfare. The end of World War II saw economic depression, followed by changing attitudes to women, immigrants, and those with disabilities, and the growing recognition that young people have specific needs in relation to wellbeing. These vast social changes can be seen through the archives of the Trust, as our predecessors analysed the needs of the current population and applied resources accordingly to make improvements.
Your trustees have used varied approaches suited to the time and the issues at hand. Innovative projects included everything from creating the first colleges of adult education, to supporting the first preschool playgroups, and investing in outdoor recreational space for the general population. There are many organisations that would not exist today if you had not endowed the UK Trust with the mission and funds to support their establishment. Charities such as Leonard Cheshire, Citizens Advice Bureaux, Making Music (formerly the National Federation of Music Societies), Sadler’s Wells, and the Old Vic were all supported by the Trust. At a more local level, many hundreds of village halls, playing fields, and youth hostels were set up with money from your endowment. UK civil society is all the stronger for them.
When I meet people for the first time and introduce the UK Trust, it is the public libraries you built that people most associate with you. For the first 50 years of our story, more than one third of the funds were allocated to libraries. We moved away from this for a while, focusing on new and emerging areas of need. But rediscovering our connection with libraries, and providing a programme of research and development to support them in the twenty-first century, is one of the things the current team is most proud of. We hope you would also be proud of our continuing commitment to this aspect of your legacy.
Your trustees have never confined themselves to grant giving when interpreting the mission, producing groundbreaking reports on major social issues such as the welfare of mothers and children (1917); the relationship between diet, income, and health (1937); young people’s economic opportunities (1943); juvenile delinquency (1950); youth services (1958); the post-war new communities (1960); the arts and disabled people (1981); and rural community development (2004). While we haven’t used the words “the masses” for many years, the focus has been firmly on people experiencing disadvantage, and particularly on those whose disadvantage is not well understood by society at the time.
The faith you placed in the trustees allowed them to make a bold decision in 2004 to move from a grant-making to an operating trust. The Trust Deed is interpreted as your ambition to improve conditions for as many people as possible. As the value of the endowment fell, and the UK Trust could no longer claim to be one of the biggest grant-funders in the UK and Ireland, the impact of the grants became smaller and smaller. But the impact of an independent, evidence-based organisation with its focus on improving wellbeing was becoming clear, particularly when we find a new angle from which to explore issues neglected or under-examined by others. And so, today, it is in our capacity as an operating trust that we are able to continue your legacy by influencing policy and practice to improve the lives of people in the UK and Ireland.
Our most recent inquiry of this nature, carried out by Carnegie Fellow Julia Unwin, may surprise you, focusing as it does on kindness. The Trust’s involvement in understanding the value and power of kindness is seen as risky and innovative, which may tell you something about the times we are currently living in. And we continue to focus on improving lives directly, tackling complex or challenging issues that our endowment gives us the privilege to dedicate time and resources to when others may find it difficult — such as our support for affordable credit, to ensure that people can access fair credit when they need it most.
Of course, here in 2019, none of the current team in the UK Trust knew you personally. But we have come to know you through the generosity of spirit both in financial terms and in the faith you put in the trustees. We can be inspired by the thought you put into the choice of the word wellbeing — how risky it was at the time, but how forward thinking it has turned out to be.
One of our favourite insights into your character, though, is through your words, “there is little success where there is little laughter.” It is with these words that I often finish, when speaking to the organisations we work with. We invariably find that our flexibility and our willingness to focus only on the outcomes for people bring light to those working at the front line of charitable and public services, and joy to our relationships with them.
For that gift, and many, many more, I thank you and extend my gratitude also to all those who came after you, who so carefully stewarded the Trust to achieve its unique mission.
Interim Joint Chief Executive
Dear Mr. Carnegie,
Not many endeavours survive a century of change, particularly a century of such rapid change as that which has just passed. Your wisdom in giving the trustees your blessing to embrace change has given your UK Trust the freedom not only to survive but to thrive.
For the current trustees, whom I have the present honour to chair, the challenge which we know you would set us is to begin the task of contributing even more to the wellbeing of the people of the British Isles in the next hundred years than we have done in the past one hundred years. It is a big challenge, but one lesson we take from your life is that with sustained ambition and commitment it is possible to achieve more than others, or even we ourselves, might deem possible.
In seeking increased impact on the wellbeing of the mass of people, we are in a position to learn from what has not changed during a century when governments and many others, including us, have sought to bring about improved wellbeing. There has been enormous progress in the prosperity of our society, and in the availability of educational opportunity and medical provision for almost everyone in the British Isles. Yet we can see clearly that the evidence of these many decades of progress is that a large number of people within society derive much less benefit from that progress than the majority.
There has been enormous progress in the prosperity of our society … Yet we can see clearly that the evidence of these many decades of progress is that a large number of people within society derive much less benefit from that progress than the majority.
The people within society who benefit least from general progress would have been recognisable to you in your lifetime. They are those who have to overcome the deficit disadvantages birth and family circumstances have imposed upon them, before they can participate in the general uplift in wellbeing which others in society are able to enjoy from childhood onwards. For many, the deficit crushes their self belief and belief in the possibility of improvement before they come anywhere close to sharing in the opportunities embraced by others in society.
A development which might be much more surprising to you is that we in the nations of the British Isles, in common with many other economically developed countries, now live in the first human society in history in which the majority of the population is over age 50. In your own lifetime, that was the average age of death in Britain, even as late as the first decade of the twentieth century. In contrast to issues affecting the poorest in society, the challenge of learning to adapt to a society characterised by advanced age is more strongly correlated with those who have enjoyed relative prosperity in their earlier adult lives.
At one stage of recent thinking, discussions of both sets of issues — the persist-ence of relative poverty and the need to adapt to increased ageing — were interwoven with discussion of the increased importance of a supply of skilled labour in the most developed economies. More recently, however, debate about the future of work, and the possibility of substantially reduced demand for labour, is emerging as a result of rapid technological advancement through the potential applications of artificial intelligence. We are only beginning to speculate about the nature of a society in which an increasing proportion of people may need to find their sense of value and meaning in ways separate from the contribution they make to the wellbeing of society through work.
As we grapple with the challenge of contributing to the wellbeing of the mass of people by exploring fresh ways of responding positively to the development of our society, we retain continuity with ways of thinking which characterised your own philanthropy.
We advocate the practical value that can come from emulating your focus on general wellbeing as a guiding principle, and we seek to be at the forefront of international thinking about ways governments apply that principle.
We explore ways in which the capacity of individuals, families, and communities can be given greater expression and acknowledgement. We look at the enhancement of wellbeing that can come from the ways in which people cooperate with one another, and the degree of responsibility we take for the wellbeing of one another, including the ways in which we behave towards one another in everyday life.
We maintain a distinctive focus on understanding and learning from the experience of life in towns throughout the British Isles, assisted both by your decision to ensure that representation from Dunfermline, the town of your birth, is a substantial component of our trustee group, and by our continued location in the town.
We shall continue to learn from you, and from the perspectives you bequeathed to us, as we strive to live up to the trust you have invested in us, and in our successors as trustees in the century ahead, to take forward your legacy of philanthropy. You gave us the responsibility to reinterpret the ways in which we can best give effect to your intentions in the light of changing times, and we shall continue to embrace that responsibility wholeheartedly.
With our gratitude and respect,
Sir John Elvidge
Chair, Board of Trustees
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