Charity reform required to alter Foundation’s influence

CROYDON COMMENTARY: At the weekend, Susan Oliver asked: what is the real role in Croydon of the multi-million pound Whitgift Foundation, the owners of much of the land being redeveloped as part of the £1bn Hammersfield scheme?
Here, DAVID CALLAM offers his view

The Whitgift Foundation has benefited hugely from being in the right place at the right time.

Peacocks and other exotic birds that strut around the grounds of Whitgift School are effectively paid for from the Foundation's charitable funds

Peacocks and other exotic birds that strut around the grounds of Whitgift School are effectively paid for from the Foundation’s charitable funds

In the early 1960s, it was a modest charity with two schools and a collection of almshouses, much as it had been in the days of its founder, John Whitgift, the Archbishop of Canterbury 400 years earlier.

Over the centuries, the Foundation acquired land and property around the town from which it continues to receive rent.

Generations of boys from its two schools went on to become modest but influential members of society – accountants, doctors, lawyers and the like – in Croydon and beyond. Some of them became governors of the Foundation and members of the local council: there was an inevitable blurring of the lines that continues to this day.

The Foundation hit the jackpot in the early 1960s when it accepted advice to retain and develop the former site on North End of Whitgift School. Instead of a cash injection, it opted for a steady income, in the form of freehold rents from the Whitgift Centre’s shops and offices.

That money has allowed it to renovate the almshouses, build two additional care homes for the elderly and maintain all three to a high standard.

It has also allowed the Foundation to build a new school (Trinity), renovate and modernise a second (Whitgift) and acquire and renovate a third (Old Palace).

The Whitgift Foundation has a historic role in Croydon

The Whitgift Foundation has a historic role in Croydon and cherishes its position within the Establishment

The charity has also been able to institute a bursary scheme for students in all three schools to ensure that fees alone are not a barrier.

The Foundation has continued to exert considerable influence on the government of Croydon: when the Labour party won power at the Town Hall for the first time, the Foundation promptly invited a Labour councillor to join its own ruling body, the Court of Governors.

The Whitgift Foundation charity will benefit substantially from the Shopping City deal with Hammerson and Westfield, allowing it to continue its work with young people and the elderly.

It is not a public body. As such, it is not accountable to the people of Croydon for its income and expenditure. Instead, the Foundation is accountable to the Charities Commission, a long-established body with complicated rules.

Many would argue the Charity Commission is unfit for purpose in the 21st century, but until we change its remit – and that, I suggest, will require a Royal Commission – the Whitgift Foundation and every other registered charity in Britain, including the now largely irrelevant Church of England, will continue to enjoy the privileges and concessions granted by Parliament over many years.

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1 Response to Charity reform required to alter Foundation’s influence

  1. A very informative article, David. Thank you.
    What would trigger a Royal Commission? Cheers.

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