Alice Meason – watching Quartet grow
Lives changed? Alice Meason has a seen a few. “Sometimes it’s the tiniest thing, like a community group which has a broken cooker and cannot afford to mend it.
“Sometimes it’s more complex, like the cut flower project that helped people with learning difficulties, and reckoned they could set up a business to help support the project. They needed £10,000 worth of help with marketing, and that set them up so they could do just that.”
Alice came across Quartet, in one its earlier forms, when she moved to Bristol in the 1980s and saw an advertisement in their window saying they needed a secretary. She got the job, became grants officer, then grants director, and before retiring two years ago she saw the organisation start on a journey that involved giving away £25 million, among its other services.
“With grants, first of all you have to get the money in order to be able to give it, but then you have to give it well in order to keep the confidence of the funders so that they come back. We had to learn all that as Quartet evolved. That process is also key to the charities and community groups who Quartet helps – they use that help as a springboard for pursuing other funds, and having Quartet’s reputation for sound management and guidance makes all the difference.
Talking about issues with Alice brings us back to the real issue – which is changing lives for the better. That cut flower project, for example, helping people through therapeutic gardening, then helping itself to help them better by setting up a business.
As is so often, a little goes a long way, and in this case even changing lifetimes rather than just lives.
Some people, says Alice, would be surprised at how other people in the same city live their lives. She recalls taking some trustees on a visit to a project that dealt with the trafficking of women and children. “They couldn’t believe it was going on. What Quartet did was to facilitate help in immediate practical term, and for lobbying to get things changed.”
Food waste is another, with Quartet helping support the Fair Share project that bridges the gap between supermarket food that would otherwise get thrown out, and those who are hungry. Those receiving help have also become volunteers, learning new skills along the way.
That kind of impact, says Alice, does not happen by accident. For Quartet’s grant-giving side, there’s a rigorous assessment process. The organisation uses that ‘sustained and comprehensive knowledge’ to work out the best way to help. “You need to be able to tell the difference between a group with ambitions to grow, and one that just needs a new cooker. The one that wants to grow might really just need a new cooker, and it’s the other one that needs to grow. It’s all about giving well.”