Over the past two decades County Durham Community Foundation has provided grants of around £30 million to more than 10,000 groups and individuals.
It makes donations on behalf of philanthropists and companies seeking to give something back to the community – and on Monday evening many of those it has helped will join VIP guests for a celebration of all it has achieved since 1995.
The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev Paul Butler, will lead the event, which will also feature contributions from Dean Michael Sadgrove, the Lord Lieutenant Sue Snowdon, and the foundation’s Chairman, Mark I’Anson.
But the real stars of the show will be the many beneficiaries present. Community groups including scouts and sports clubs will take part in an opening parade, led by Brancepeth Revellers Marching Band.
The event will also include contributions from Durham Miners Association Brass Band and young musicians and dancers the charity has funded over the years.
Chief Executive, Barbara Gubbins, said: “We’ve had big events before but nothing quite like this... it will be the pinnacle of the charity’s journey so far.
“It’s a celebration bringing together staff, donors and just a smattering of those we have been able to help for a spectacular parade and service.
“But none of what we have achieved would have been possible without our donors, so this is our chance to say a special thank you to them.”
The charity was founded by County Durham’s former Lord Lieutenant Sir Paul Nicholson and his predecessor David Grant.
They were inspired by the community foundation movement in America, kick started just over100 years ago in 1914 when the first organisation of its kind was launched in Cleveland, Ohio.
That was followed in 1926 by the hugely influential Charles Stewart Mott Foundation in Flint, Michigan.
Mr Nicholson recalled: “In America community foundations had enabled people of relatively modest means to make a major contribution to their communities.
“It was a great idea and took off over here in 1990 when three regions – Tyne and Wear, Cleveland and Bristol - met a challenge set by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation to raise £2m, which it matched.”
That was the catalyst for the foundation movement in the UK, and County Durham Foundation – the word ‘Community’ was added later – was born in 1995 with the help of funding from clothing company Barbour and house builders William Leech.
Mr Nicholson said: “We realised there was a need that wasn’t being met in County Durham, so we were determined to make it happen.”
£1m was raised to get the foundation up and running and Labour Party leader and Prime Minister-in-waiting Tony Blair spoke at the launch at Durham County Cricket Club’s ground in Chester-le-Street.
Mr Nicholson, the former Chief Executive of Vaux Breweries, remains President of the charity and his wife is a trustee.
He added: “I think we can all take great pride in what has been achieved over the past 20 years.
“Durham is rated as one of the poorest counties in England, yet we have one of the best community foundations – that shows the generosity of its people.
“Back then we could not foresee how things were going to develop and even now, by American standards where some foundations deal in billions of dollars, were still relatively small.
“Many of the grants the foundation awards are for modest amounts of money, but they make a big difference to people’s lives, and I firmly believe that, from the donor’s perspective, they make sound
business sense too.
“When I ran my company, we didn’t just give money to charity to make us feel good – we did it primarily to support the local community but also to raise our profile and to help shareholders by making the company more profitable.
“That principle still holds true today and I believe the excellent team we have is capable of doubling the amount of money we give out over the next 20 years.”
Projects backed by the foundation include initiatives to improve public health, education and training, the environment and parenting, as well as those aimed at reducing crime and anti-social behaviour.
Chairman Mark I’Anson said: “It is heart-warming that such a small county has been so generous in providing the means to help those who are delivering vital services and activities at a grassroots level.
“We are consciously looking at what difference we have made over that time and how we can take this forward in the next two decades.
“We hope that the success of initiatives such as Learning Working Earning, which provides employment opportunities for individuals, will be just the start of how we can help to regenerate families and the local economy.”
Looking ahead, Barbara Gubbins added: “As part of our activities next year we will be analysing the impact we have had on the local community and on philanthropy in general across County Durham.
“We will also be looking to the future and how we can continue to work towards achieving our overall goals.
“Our vision is to bring people together to achieve their full potential, fulfil their aspirations and build thriving communities.”
Whilst Monday’s event will undoubtedly be the biggest so far in the charity’s history, it is one of a number that have taken place in its anniversary year.
In March, world-renowned businesswoman and philanthropist Dame Stephanie Shirley – who came to Britain from Germany as a five-year-old Jewish refugee in 1939 – shared her emotive at the foundation’s 20th Anniversary Gala Dinner at Durham Castle.
- Monday’s event gets underway at 7.15pm. Whilst many beneficiaries will be present, it has not been possible for the foundation to contact all of them. However, it has extended an open invitation to any group or individual wishing to attend.