Richard Pendlebury on a mission for social justice

In an ideal world Richard Pendlebury would probably prefer you weren’t reading this. He has a secret, but it’s such a splendid one that he’s decided to share it.

“My experience is that giving has enriched my life. We live in a world where the aim is usually to keep hold of as much as we can, but in fact there is a joy in giving,” he says. He’s talking about money, but also time and expertise.

First, the money.

Richard gives directly, from a fund set up by himself and his wife, which distributes around £800 every year or so to good causes through a Quartet networking event where people with projects pitch their ideas to people with money.

“I would prefer to do that quietly,” he says, “and we could have kept our own fund anonymous. But we wanted other people to do it, so it’s out there for people to see.”

The capital in the fund would buy him a nice car but, instead, the interest on it is distributed whenever it has accumulated to projects which give a leg up to people whose life opportunities are limited.

“Some people don’t have a chance,” says Richard, “and are cut off. And my personal mission is to serve the most needy in society, especially in my own city. It’s about justice – social justice.”

“ personal mission is to serve the most needy in society, especially in my own city. It’s about justice – social justice."

-Richard Pendlebury Quartet donor and 'social entrepreneur'
Donors bidding to support projects at a live crowd-funding event run by The Funding Network
The Funding Network (TFN) is how Richard first heard about Quartet and what we do

That never means just handing out cash. Richard’s background is, like that of many philanthropists, a business one, and he talks the tough language of business. Those who give with the help of Quartet’s expertise often talk in terms of investment. Just like any other investor, they want to see a good return on what they put it – except they don’t want it back in dividends and profits.

“It’s about leverage and bang for your buck,” says Richard. “Some of these local community groups for example can make a few hundred pounds go a long way, and create a real impact. They have low admin costs and they help people to help themselves, so the impact escalates. Quartet understands that, and that’s why I’m a such great fan of it.”

It was coming across ‘The Funding Network’ founded in Bristol by Helen and Peter Wilde and supported by Quartet – a channel for putting local donors in touch with groups needing support – that inspired Richard in his family’s own giving.  “I heard that Quartet managed many different funds that local supporters had created, and I was really inspired. From that moment I wanted us as a family to have a fund, and that’s what we did.”

“Some of these local community groups for example can make a few hundred pounds go a long way, and create a real impact."

-Richard Pendlebury Quartet donor and 'social entrepreneur'

But Richard’s relationship with Quartet goes beyond personal giving, because he’s also a social entrepreneur himself, having made a career out of helping charities to get off the ground and stay there – and right from the start Quartet was one of the organisations that helped make that work.

“I first came in contact with Quartet many years ago through a grant from them for a charity I worked for, and it made a huge difference to me in terms of encouragement. The Quartet team gave me further support, and advice, which helped me develop other projects.”

One of his favourite projects that he has since seen supported through The Funding Network is Jamie’s Farm, based in Bath, which “gives a wonderful therapeutically based experience to children facing disadvantage.  My wife Laura and I were so taken by it that I offered further help through a fundraising day with their board, then supported their fundraiser as they developed the project.  The project has been growing from strength to strength (without my help!).”

It’s probably fair to say that no teenager ever went to see the careers officer and say they wanted to be a social entrepreneur, and Richard’s route into that world is probably as meandering as most.

He tried being an Army officer, but they turned him down for “lack of initiative”. Their loss: he became an accountant, worked for a building society, then a property developer, and then found he was adept at raising money. He’s now Chief Executive of the Anchor Society, which is housed in a tiny upstairs office in Clifton, Bristol, and has been helping the city’s elderly for 250 years. Plus he’s chair of Voscur, Bristol’s umbrella body for the voluntary sector.

"The Quartet team gave me further support, and advice, which helped me develop other projects.”

-Richard Pendlebury Quartet donor and 'social entrepreneur'
Changing Tunes - helping to rehabilitate offenders and ex-offenders
Changing Tunes - helping to rehabilitate offenders and ex-offenders

In various other roles Richard has helped set up or support charities including those that: help the homeless; give disadvantaged children access to computers; provide music therapy for those with mental health issues; and Changing Tunes – which uses music education to help rehabilitate prisoners and ex-prisoners. The full list is even longer, which must be one of the reasons Richard has an MBE to his name.

Back to that bang-for-your-buck philosophy, using prisoners as an example. “A lot of people haven’t got time for prisoners and ex-prisoners,” says Richard, “but, even just in economic terms, keeping someone inside is so expensive that you only have to succeed with rehabilitation once in a while and you save society tens of thousands of pounds a year. Not only can you help them stay outside prison, but you can help them get back to work, to be economically viable too. That’s impact.”

It is, of course, about more than that. “You cannot put a price on a life. Some people have just lost their lives, for whatever reason, and if you can help them to help get their life back then it’s worth it in whatever terms.”

It’s clearly worth it for them. Those who do the giving do it for their own reasons. In Richard’s case, there’s his faith – he was recently ordained as a Minister – but his sense of mission seems to have been there in the background all along anyway.  It’s certainly not for glory: Richard didn’t mention his MBE during the interview, and the writer of this piece only found out about it online later.

And Quartet has, for Richard, been instrumental in supporting not only the charities he works with, but also helping him to channel his personal giving. It has been, it seems, a life-changing partnership all round.

In the end, perhaps philanthropy isn’t really so mysterious. As Richard explains: “If we all just did something reasonable for someone else the world would be a much better place.”

With thanks to Rob Campbell, journalist, who kindly authored this piece for us. You can follow him on Twitter @rob15959