‘Strength in numbers’ as Felixstowe port companies support the community

Felixstowe Coastwatch, the voluntary organisation dedicated to improving safety for all users of the

Felixstowe Coastwatch, the voluntary organisation dedicated to improving safety for all users of the beach and sea areas in Felixstowe and Harwich, was recently awarded £1,000 by the Port Community Fund. The grant will help with day-to-day running costs, as its 50 volunteers continue to provide monitoring and coordinating services throughout the year. Pictured are Alan Peck, senior watchkeeper, with Shaun Allen, chief operating officer of Pentalver, one of the Port Community Fund partners. Alan Long, Maritime Cargo Processing. - Credit: Archant

The Felixstowe-based Port Community Fund recently passed a milestone as its partners announced that £250,000 has now been awarded by the fund since it was set up in 2008. This unique way of supporting local causes has also been attracting the attention of other ports around the UK, so how does it work? FELICITY LANDON reports.

Stephen Singleton, chief executive of Suffolk Community Foundation.

Stephen Singleton, chief executive of Suffolk Community Foundation. - Credit: Archant

The merits of “doing good” locally are obvious – most businesses have some form of fundraising activities and perhaps specific charities they support.

However, the Port Community Fund was created when a group of companies in and around the Port of Felixstowe, including the port itself, decided to pool their resources so that together they could do more to support local charities and build a “mutually supportive relationship” with the local community.

The fund is managed by the Suffolk Community Foundation, whose chief executive, Stephen Singleton, says: “It is certainly very unusual that organisations have come together like this, because often they could be seen to be competitors.

“But they sit around the table and make decisions and, by working together, they have created a significant fund to help Felixstowe and the surrounding area.”

Alan Long of Maritime Cargo Processing.

Alan Long of Maritime Cargo Processing. - Credit: Archant

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So far the fund has supported around 100 different organisations with grants of varying amounts. The partners meet four times a year to discuss grant applications and decide which to support. In this, the Suffolk Community Foundation plays an important role.

“We are the people who understand the voluntary sector, investigate the applications and assess the need, so the panel of business people can make decisions on what they want to support rather than worrying about the risk attached to it,” says Mr Singleton. “They want to put their money in the right place – we iron out the risk.”

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That back-up is important as applications are received from an incredibly wide range of organisations, and the members are keen to support those that are perhaps ‘under the radar’ as well as others that are better known.

The fund has supported projects such as Felixstowe Coastwatch, which monitors the beach and sea areas in Felixstowe and Harwich, and the East Anglian Sailing Trust but also supports less visible projects such as Headway (for people with a brain injury), Cruse (for bereaved people) and the women’s refuge.

“Typically our charities are grass roots charities with high volunteer levels, needing a relatively small amount of money but absolutely delivering vital services,” says Mr Singleton. “We don’t mind handing out money to support day-to-day running costs. These charities need money to keep going and we recognise the value of what they do every day, as opposed to one-off projects to attract funding.”

The voluntary sector in Suffolk is made up of about 2,500 charities and probably the same number of community groups, making it a big sector. However, Mr Singleton says: “Some of the household names we would recognise in charity shops on the high street don’t have a presence in Suffolk because the county is not seen as a deprived area, although there are areas of deprivation. We tend to be an area that actually helps itself and that means a lot of individual small organisations.

“This fund and its partners really want to make an impact with the money, and often, relatively small amounts of money can have a huge impact.”

As well as handing out grants, the partners are building an endowment fund to help the community in perpetuity, based on the same principles as a trust fund. “We use investment managers, and the interest and returns they have generated go into the grant-making programme,” says Mr Singleton.

One of the fund partners is Maritime Cargo Processing (MCP), whose chief, Alan Long, says: “The Port Community Fund is a good idea for us because it means we can focus our contributions on the fund, rather than dealing with individual calls for help. It means the total pot we are able to use to help local charities is larger, and the collective impact is much greater. Also, we often fund causes that might be considered ‘less fashionable’ and not otherwise get funding.”

Claire Ling, marketing and sales manager at Cory Brothers, says: “As an agency, we have been in the community for such a long time and, when the fund was set up, it seemed to be the logical next step for us, to support and help our local community.

“Although we have always contributed in small ways, as part of a group we can achieve something so much bigger and long-term. Also, many of our own staff are connected with some of the groups supported by the fund, so it is helping them in the long-term too. And already there is going to be a legacy for the future.”

It is, then a case of “strength in numbers” but also, through joining the fund, many partners have been astounded by the number and range of charities out there that they never knew existed.

The current nine partners are keen to encourage more companies to join the Port Community Fund. “If we could get more people around the table, we could create an even more significant fund to help Felixstowe and the surrounding area,” says Mr Singleton. “If there are any organisations that would like to join, we would be delighted to talk to them. Equally, any groups looking for funding – give us a call.”

Stephen Singleton can be contacted at the Suffolk Community Foundation on 01473 602602.

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