Last night I had the pleasure of attending the annual black tie dinner of B4, Oxfordshire's leading business connectors.  B4's CEO Richard Rosser ask me to speak at the event and announce that B4 have just joined OCF's Collective Business Fund - as have medical communications company Oxford Pharmagenesis.

It was amazing to be in such a magnificent venue amongst a really warm and friendly bunch of businesspeople, some of whom I have known for a long time. I am not sure how Dukes of the past made their speeches, but although I had a mic, the echoey room made it difficult for some people to hear, so I thought I'd share here much of what I spoke about!

Community foundations are charities dedicated to building thriving local communities through effective philanthropy. In Oxfordshire we do this by making up to 3 million pounds in grants each year to support small, grassroots charities.

We can only do this thanks to those who give us money: local individuals, businesses, statutory bodies and trusts that put their faith in us – we combine their funding together so that they can make a bigger difference than they ever could alone. 

I am really pleased to announce that B4 has just joined our Collective Business Fund, which is an initiative where local companies donate into a pooled fund from which we make grants. I should also name-check Mills and Reeve, who were there last night and are also donors to this fund (along with six other companies whose logos can be seen here). Thank you all so much.

To give you an idea of the impact of this support, I am going to briefly share with you two stats and two stories.

The first stat is that in Oxford, one in six children is living in poverty (DWP). Just think about how many children that is and how many might be going hungry and cold, or are unable to access the opportunities that many of us probably take for granted.

The first story I wanted to tell is how OCF has helped some of these families via a grant to a social enterprise called Waste2Taste. They use high-quality food surplus from supermarkets to run cooking and wellbeing workshops for low-income families. Participants learn how to improvise healthy recipes from cheap and readily available ingredients. This provides a strong start for vulnerable young children, but also lifelong healthy food habits. One participant in the workshop said:

"It most definitely helps me in more ways than just money - which lasts longer with the team's help! It helps keep me happy and now I even volunteer helping to deliver meals to those less able to leave their homes."

So you can see the impact on this one person via a grant to an amazing organisation!

The second stat that might surprise you is that around 1,800 households are made homeless each year in Oxfordshire (JSNA). This is not just people rough sleeping as you often see in Oxford – there are thousands of families and individual adults of all ages living in tents and bedsits, on sofas, in emergency shelters or even in sheds across the county.

The second story is of a grant OCF made to The Gatehouse, a small charity in Oxford that supports people who are homeless or vulnerably housed. This grant enabled their casework team to provide a holistic, personalised approach to around 140 people. One of these people was evicted from a private tenancy due to mental health issues, and ended up in an unfurnished Local Authority flat. He couldn’t afford to furnish it or cook meals, which was exacerbating his mental health. The Gatehouse arranged not just a food parcel for him, but also cooking equipment, a programme of counselling, and internet access, so that he could join other support networks. He is now in a stable situation, and says that he feels safer, more confident and able to tackle his own problems as they arise – all of which will prevent him falling into homelessness again.

Both of these grants were made in the past year as part of OCF’s response to the cost-of-living crisis – and this is where the Collective Business Fund has really come into its own. We combined the donations from our member businesses together with funding from local philanthropists, Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford colleges, so that we could make a total of £560k in grants to 70 different grassroots charities.

I cannot emphasise enough that businesses like B4, Mills and Reeve, and Oxford Pharmagenesis are part of this powerful collective movement to provide support to the most urgent issues, directed at the charities that are making a genuine difference to people in Oxfordshire. We are so very grateful for your support!

B4 will be working with OCF to come up with initiatives to raise money for the fund, but the fund is also open to all of our Members to use for any independent fundraising activities they may embark upon. If any guests from the event would like to donate to the fund, you can do so here!