A PHILANTHROPIST who donated £15m to save one of the North East’s cultural gems has found another £1m to tackle deprivation in the region.
Investment banker Jonathan Ruffer and his wife Jane made the decision to give County Durham Community Foundation the money to distribute on their behalf to cement their commitment to the local area.
The couple recently saved the Zurbaran paintings from being bought up and leaving Bishop Auckland, thanks to their £15m donation. They are also funding the restoration of Auckland Castle with plans to develop it into a Christian heritage centre and a major tourist attraction.
Mr Ruffer, who was born in Stokesley near Middlesbrough, said he believes the North East needs to sparkle again.
He said: “I am keen to support and build teams that will improve social deprivation and empower people.
“You might say that County Durham Community Foundation is one of those teams and by allowing them – as the local experts – to reach the parts that need help most, that leaves me time to channel my energies into developing my Auckland Castle project.”
Although Mr and Mrs Ruffer won’t be involved in the day-to-day decisions on how their money is spent, the community foundation has developed programmes that match their charitable aims of helping people back into employment, raising aspirations and fulfilling potential.
The community foundation’s president, Durham’s Lord Lieutenant Sir Paul Nicholson, said: “Jonathan and Jane’s vision and commitment for the castle, Bishop Auckland and the people of County Durham are quite remarkable. We are overwhelmed by their generosity and the gift will make a huge difference to local communities.”
Mark I’Anson, chairman of County Durham Community Foundation, said: “This is the largest single gift that our organisation has ever received. It is also very unusual for a donor to allow us the scope to distribute such a large sum to tackle the most pressing issues in the local area.
“He has given us the go-ahead to spend the money at our discretion, which is a real compliment to the foundation. It is easy to spend money, but much more difficult to spend it wisely.
“We will be announcing more detailed plans in the coming weeks but a significant amount will be allocated to getting people back into employment.”
Mr I’Anson said the foundation would be looking at schemes aimed at providing jobs, training and apprenticeships for those over 25.
He said: “Younger people are reasonably well catered for but there are people aged 25 and much older in the county who have never worked, or who have only had sporadic employment.
“There are medicines that no NHS prescriptions can achieve, specifically providing hope and a sense of purpose.
“We will also be looking at financially supporting talented young people, whether their talent is in sport, the arts or academic, to fulfil their potential.
“Jonathan showed his commitment to Bishop Auckland by buying the castle and the paintings. Now he has shown his commitment to the entire county.”
The 12 Zurbaran paintings, which depict Jacob and his sons, have hung in Auckland Castle, in a room specifically designed and built for them, for more than 250 years.
The Church of England put them up for sale, raising fears that they would be lost to the region, but Mr Ruffer’s intervention saved the artwork.
Since 1995, County Durham Community Foundation has made grants of over £20m to groups and individuals across County Durham and Darlington on behalf of donors.
The foundation is managed by a board of 14 trustees, who are professionals drawn from all sectors of the business and voluntary communities. Vice-presidents include Professor Chris Higgins, Tony Blair, David Bellamy and Sir Harold Evans.
Similar to having a charitable trust but without the legal and administrative costs, donors can choose from a number of ways to channel their charitable giving by setting up named funds for the causes close to their hearts.
To find out more about County Durham Community Foundation, contact 0191 378 6340 or visit the website at www.cdcf.org.uk
He has given us the go-ahead to spend the money at our discretion, which is a real compliment