Leadership diaries: “The impact of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis has been devastating for many West Yorkshire communities”

Nick Lane Fox and Cleveland Henry are chair and deputy Chair respectively of Leeds Community Foundation, here, they detail a week in their working life.

Alongside other board members, these two businessmen utilise their experience to steer the West Yorkshire organisation and provide governance. Their business experience couldn’t be more different – high-tech digital and agriculture – but in many ways, the same principles apply, and particularly their commitment to people and communities. Currently, Leeds Community Foundation distributes £4m+ annually to support people living in some of the most deprived areas of the region.

Monday

The first meeting of the week is with Kate Hainsworth, CEO of Leeds Community Foundation. Today we discuss plans for strategic direction in the wake of our recent board meeting. The Foundation has a vision to create cities of opportunity for all and does this through generating philanthropic giving and leveraging statutory funding to deliver grants which address specific challenges. Our five-year plan ‘Plan 2024: Ambitious for Change’ puts the focus on the smaller scale community organisations. This means we sometimes walk a fine line between supporting new start-up organisations, and successfully managing risk on behalf of our donors. At the moment, these smaller organisations are particularly needed by individuals struggling with the cost of living crisis.

Both of us have full-time jobs outside of our work with the Foundation, so we use our time connecting with the staff team effectively. This means we read up on board meeting agendas and minutes in the evenings and make sure that any questions around immediate priorities are raised with Kate directly. Our roles manage risk, uphold standards, and ensure reports are accurate and comply with charity regulations.

Tuesday

The impact of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis has been devastating for many West Yorkshire communities. It also has had an impact on salaries and we are very conscious as an employer of how best to support our dedicated staff team. We have our quarterly board meeting this afternoon. It’s a chance to review the audit results of the previous year and our auditors are full of praise for the work conducted by the finance team. The Foundation has four separate charitable entities, so it’s a complex process.

Helen, our Development Director, presents the challenge that we currently face in terms of philanthropy. The Foundation’s remit is to support as many individual and business donors who would like to give back to their locality, and stay connected with the work that local charities pursue for local people. It’s a unique privilege to be able to help neighbours, especially given that Leeds and Bradford experience deprivation at some of the worst levels in the country. It is difficult to accept that people in our developed cities are experiencing hunger, hardship, cold and loneliness. The phenomenally generous donors who support the foundation are critical to our ability to help.

Wednesday

This afternoon we have a chance to meet with one of our new trustees on a one-to-one level. We’ve recently run a successful recruitment drive to attract new trustees to our board. One of our combined objectives as a trustee group is to always have a robust and strong board who are representative of our local communities.
Emily is a youth worker who studied in Leeds and is passionate about connecting support for marginalised young people. We discuss with her what kind of insight she can share with the organisation and the recommendations she has in the short and medium term. It’s essential for the future of philanthropy and volunteering that the next generation of trustees are supported and empowered to make a difference because they have so much knowledge, energy and skills to share. Not only this, we need to be able to hold a mirror up ourselves and see that we are as close as possible to reflecting the diverse range of people that the foundation supports. We need to be mentors and role models if we are to continue to build on the amazing trust that our staff teams have with communities across West Yorkshire.

Thursday

Our Head of Impact, Ilona, has been doing some further work on understanding how our own region compares with others across the UK. We commissioned a formal analysis with a couple of partners on the Funding Ecology, delving into the disparities that have existed and, worryingly, worsened in recent years. This analysis finds that Yorkshire and Humber is lagging behind others in the South in terms of funding per head and also that poverty levels in our own region are wider spread.

Ilona has had a chance to do a deep dive into our own impact and we discuss how we can be a stronger voice in advocating for visibility of this situation and how we can nudge change. It’s imperative that the foundation takes on the bigger research pieces to inform our priorities but also doesn’t forget how essential it is to stay connected with grassroots organisations such as community groups which provide essential local services, remaining trusted and accessible to the most vulnerable in our society.

Friday

Today we are lucky enough to be joining supporters on an annual event which visits several organisations that benefit from the Foundations’ funding. It’s really important to have a presence and connection with the communities Leeds Community Foundation supports, as well as the wide network of individuals and businesses that get behind the organisation regularly.

Firstly, we visit Armley Helping Hands, a charity which supports older people and their families to provide education, leisure facilities and leisure time to improve quality of life and reduce social isolation. It’s fantastic to see first-hand how funding has helped them to create a bespoke room for counselling services, giving people privacy and expert advice. Next stop is Hamara Centre in South Leeds, the team there are involved with a whole range of beneficiaries – older people, language learners, and some enjoying activities for those with special needs. We enjoy lunch at the Hollybush Conservation Project in Kirkstall to see the outstanding work done by a team of volunteers who help run a community garden which promotes health and wellbeing all while teaching new skills. First Bus have kindly sponsored with their bus which means we can reflect with fellow visitors between stops. It’s a great way to round off the week.

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