Geoff Matthews linking business and good causes

The home of one of Quartet’s lynchpins is found down a leafy lane in North Somerset; it’s a beautiful and spacious old cottage, surrounded by well-tended lawns and fruit trees. It’s about as far as you can get from inner city Bristol and the challenges facing those born without advantage.

Geoff Matthews himself is at first glance every inch the successful executive – a graduate of Bristol University, past Master of the Merchant Venturers, a governor of the independent Taunton School, former managing director of the Elizabeth Shaw chocolate company, and widely-travelled international businessman – among many, many, other things.

He talks with the assurance of someone having spent a career securing big deals for some of the biggest companies and he’s clearly interested in winning.

But, for reasons even he cannot easily put into words, he’s been all along offering his services to those in need.

“I’m Bristol born and bred,” he says. “Nobody likes to shout about what they do, but I suppose it’s about wanting to put something back into the community.”

-Geoff Matthews fund holder and Vice President, former Chair of Trustees

“One of the ways I first got involved was by supporting youth clubs, for example in Hartcliffe.” That support grew eventually into Young Bristol, of which Geoff remains a vice president, working through a vast network of youth groups to change lives across the city.

That’s one of the places where Quartet comes into the picture, as the manager of Young Bristol’s one million pound endowment fund. It’s an important part of Quartet’s work, helping charities and community groups, who might not have the expertise or time, to handle resources. One crucial impact of that is to give potential donors and partners confidence that it’s all in expert hands.

But Geoff’s involvement with Quartet goes right back, to its early and pioneering days. Geoff was, in the late 1980s, one of the trustees and subsequently chairman of the Greater Bristol Trust, which went on to become the Greater Bristol Foundation, and finally evolved into Quartet. He remains one of its vice presidents today, as part of a lifetime offering financial and management advice to a range of good causes in the city.

“Back then,” he says, “people didn’t understand what a community foundation was, so it was a hard sell. We went to the USA and got help from the Mott Foundation, which matched money that we raised, and it grew from there. And it worked!

“It’s not all about grant giving but if you had told me 30 years ago that Quartet would now be in a position to be giving away two to three million pounds a year I would have said you were joking.”

-Geoff Matthews fund holder and Vice President, former Chair of Trustees

The secret, says Geoff, is personal contacts, solid support from a few key players, a businesslike attitude, and local knowledge. He recalls in the early days when a single donor gave a quarter of a million pounds. “It was someone with strong Bristol business links, who wanted to help at the grassroots in the city and recognised that the Foundation could achieve that. It wasn’t just money, as they also brought their own business expertise to it.”

That’s how it works, says Geoff, and it means that even a modest bit of help directly or facilitated by Quartet can go an awful long way.

“And if you want to know about why it matters,” he says, “just look at the life expectancy in one part of Bristol versus another; it can be nearly ten years’ difference just a couple of streets apart.

“I try to stay in touch with the issues around those kind of problems. Myself and the other vice presidents try to hold our meetings in places, such as Southmead, where Quartet has made a difference, so we can see first hand what’s going on.

“And sometimes I’ve seen just the smallest things make a difference to quality of life in areas facing challenges like that. For example, an old people’s group which just needed some equipment to help with dances, and help in renting spaces to meet – Quartet steps in, and makes a huge impact for those involved with a relatively modest contribution.”

-Geoff Matthews fund holder and Vice President, former Chair of Trustees

Lives being changed, quietly and where it matters most. That, says Geoff, is what it’s really all about.

With thanks to Rob Campbell who wrote this profile.

You can read our other #thirtylives stories here and watch the film we made to celebrate our anniversary on Youtube.