Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Not Just a Cash Machine

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Not Just a Cash Machine

Article excerpt

Byline: By Fiona Ellis

The Northern Rock Foundation was one of the first organisations to pledge it's support to culture10. Karen Wilson meets the woman at the helm, Fiona Ellis.

As director of the region's largest independent funder, Fiona Ellis has helped allocate pounds 79m in grants since the Northern Rock Foundation was set-up in 1997 following the Building Society's conversion to a public limited company.

Known for pledging substantial amounts rather than lots of smaller grants, the foundation helped kick-start culture10 earlier this year with a pounds 2m investment towards the campaign's pounds 140m target. This follows a pledge of pounds 51m from the regional partners.

But Fiona's job is about far more than just writing out cheques. Although the foundation receives 5pc annually from Northern Rock's pre-tax profits, it is a fully independent charity and company with its own Board of Trustees. Rather than handing out money and sitting back, Fiona and her staff prefer to adopt a partnership approach.

"We're not just a money machine," says Fiona, who is also a member of the UK Grants Committee of Comic Relief and sits on the Advisory Council of the Charities Aid Foundation. "Our staff all have specific expertise, such as Carole Bell who specialises in arts and heritage, and Sue Vaughan, who leads on sport and environment. It would be a shame to waste that talent. We are on the culture10 programme committee and have a lot of input into how the money is spent.

"Having built up many contacts over the years, we know how the various organisations operate and can advise on things such as how to negotiate with the local authorities.

"We share the aspirations of our public sector partners to develop the region's cultural treasures, to support its artists and to make creative opportunities available to its people. The Trustees are keen that we as a region take pride in the recent extraordinary cultural developments in Newcastle, Gateshead and beyond.

"Despite the outcome of the capital of culture bid, it's clear that if we build up the cultural structure, the image of the region will improve and that can only bring economic benefits. …

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