At a time when it’s easy to despair about greed and selfishness in society, it’s important to remember how ubiquitous the impulse to “give something back” is in the UK. Most of us donate, volunteer, or support national or international causes. Many Charity Times readers could be earning more money if they worked for another kind of organisation, and some people are fortunate enough to be able to give back on a grander scale.
After making a lot of money working in the financial sector, Andy Preston became one of the latter, returning to the part of the country where he grew up, around Middlesbrough and North Yorkshire, to help create three new charities to serve communities across the region.
Born in 1966, Preston grew up in Middlesbrough, an industrial city that experienced a gradual decline during his childhood. Although he says his family was not particularly poor, a lack of money was a constant theme.
“I was always aware that money seemed to be quite tight, so I always wanted to have it,” he says. But although he had entrepreneurial instincts as a child, earning money from paper rounds and odd jobs, it took him a long time to become wealthy. Having left school with a single O-Level and unable to find work, he eventually retook some exams, then joined the RAF, a positive experience – “I met some great people and I matured a little bit” – which gave him the confidence to enter higher education, leaving the air force to study English and Philosophy at Edinburgh University.
Early signs of leadership
After graduation in 1992, he landed a graduate traineeship at a bank in the City of London. “I absolutely loved it,” he says. “It was exciting, it felt like I was prospering and I had responsibility, which I had always craved.”
Quickly identified as a rising star, Preston became a successful trader of financial instruments including bonds and equity derivatives. He was then given the task of building an international hedge fund business for the bank and proved to be very successful at this too, eventually turning $50 million (£38m) of seed capital into $5.5 billion (£4bn).
But during this period he also began a slow transition towards working in the charity sector. He met the financier Arpad Busson, co-founder of the international children’s charity Ark, which raised much of its money through a ‘patron’ model, asking wealthy individuals to commit to giving a certain amount each year. Preston was struck by the speed with which this philanthropy-based approach to fundraising could deliver substantial amounts of money to a charity.
His interest in and support for Ark led him to another organisation dedicated to helping young people, Fairbridge, for which he campaigned energetically until it merged with the Prince’s Trust – “a great charity” that already had lots of wealthy supporters in 2011.
By now, he had returned to the Teeside region with his wife and young family. Having left the financial sector in 2008, he was now thinking about creating a charity that would encourage wealthy individuals and organisations in the region to support good causes there. In 2010, he and another successful business leader, Tanya Garland, launched the Middlesbrough and Teeside Philanthropic Foundation.
Using a patron-based model and other fundraising methods, the Foundation has raised £3 million in eight years to support a range of projects and organisations in the Teeside region. Recent beneficiaries have included Kirkleatham Hall School, near Redcar, a school for students with conditions including autism, Downs Syndrome and various learning difficulties; a youth club project in an isolated village, Moorsholm; and a project run by Fairbridge and the Prince’s Trust that supports vulnerable young people in the region. Supported by an energetic trustee board, the Foundation’s work is done by “two and a half” employees who engage with patrons, work on fundraising events and monitor its social impact.
Introducing CEO Sleepouts
Meanwhile, in 2013 Preston asked local business leaders to support another fundraising event. “CEO Sleepouts” were devised in Australia in 2006, by businessman Bernie Fehon. Preston liked the idea and contacted Fehon to ask if he could use the name for something similar in the UK.
It’s a simple concept: successful business people sleep outside in a sleeping bag for a night in aid of homelessness and poverty charities. The first CEO Sleepout in the UK was organised by the Foundation and held at the Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough in 2013, where 30 attendees raised £30,000. A second a few months later, at St James’s Park in Newcastle, raised £45,000.