THE love and care of a great aunt has inspired retired finance worker Stephen Uden to set up a fund that aims to help disadvantaged young people reach their potential.
He and his wife Ingrid set up The Gladys Watson Fund with Dorset Community Foundation three years ago and it has already awarded more than £10,000 to groups across the county who make life better for young people.
The former senior manager at Microsoft and Nationwide Building Society and Ingrid, a former teacher, wanted to become involved with the voluntary sector in Dorset when they moved to Shaftesbury.
But the roots of the fund stretch back to the 1960s when he was born out of wedlock in Abingdon, South Oxfordshire. His mother gave birth to him at a unit for unmarried mums in Croydon but when she returned to a specialist hostel in Oxfordshire.
“In those days if you gave birth in that situation you weren’t expected to keep the baby,” said Stephen. “But my mother wanted to keep me so I went to live with my Great Aunt Gladys who lived nearby in Abingdon.”
He stayed with Great Aunt Glad for three years. “I have got a lot of really happy memories there – as well as a life-long love of Ambrosia Creamed Rice which she used to give me. My happy place is sitting in front of the telly watching Pinky and Perky with a bowl of Ambrosia Creamed Rice.”
It was his memories of the way she helped him and influenced him that shaped the couple’s thinking about the fund he wanted to set up in Dorset.
“Ingrid and I developed this shared conviction that there are a lot of young people who need a nudge in the right direction. We were always there for our children as they became teenagers because there is so much to learn in life. But there are some young people who don’t have that and they find life very difficult,” he said.
“Our children are very grateful but they have been very fortunate and so we developed this idea about ‘the extra child’, what about the child that isn’t our child? Can we help them in a way that is similar to the way in which we help our own?
“Great Aunt Glad devoted her whole life to caring for other people. It was that sense of stepping in to care for a young person when they needed it that made us decide to name the fund after her.”
They decided to work with Dorset Community Foundation after Stephen had a good experience working with Wiltshire Community Foundation while at Nationwide, where he had built up a charitable fund via a company scheme with Charitable Giving.
“I had created the fund through employee giving, because the idea of not paying 40 per cent tax on it was quite nice, and built it up a with the idea that when we gave up work full-time we could do something useful with it,” he said.
Ingrid added: “Having moved down to north Dorset we didn’t really know who the groups were in the charity sector so setting up a fund with Dorset Community Foundation and leveraging its local knowledge was really useful in helping us get to know charities in our area.
Great Aunt Glad devoted her whole life to caring for other people. It was that sense of stepping in to care for a young person when they needed it that made us decide to name the fund after her
“The thing we like about it is that, as a donor-led fund, we have still got control over it. Yes, we are paying the community foundation to help manage it but they will identify a series of charities that meet the criteria that you’ve established, which in our case is helping disadvantaged young people realise their full potential,.
“Then we sit down and look at the requests and decide which ones we are going to fund each year.”
Among the recipients of grants is The Rendezvous in Sherborne, which received £2,000 towards educational and mental health services for disadvantaged children and young people and Acts Fast in Poole, which was awarded £1,500 towards its support for parents and carers of children who have disclosed abuse.
“We try to make the grants a different mix between the groups we know and also try some new ones and use that as a way of getting to know people,” said Stephen. He has become chairman of trustees at The Rendezvous and Ingrid is a volunteer tutor.
“The more we did with them, the more we liked them and now I we are helping them expand from the Sherborne area across the whole of North Dorset to Gillingham and Shaftsbury,” he said.
Great Aunt Glad died when Stephen was in his early twenties. He said: “I’m not sure she would be pleased about the fund being named after her but the thing that she would be happiest about is that I am in a happy place and she would get pleasure about other people being happy.”
He wants to encourage others to give to their communities in a similar way. “I’ve had a few conversations with people who are pretty comfortable and are also wondering about putting something back,” he said.
“They are often quite generous about giving money to charity but do it in response to things rather than in a considered way. The reason they don’t do something is that they don’t realise it is possible and there’s an easy mechanism to do so. If you are keen on helping then it is definitely worth a conversation with a community foundation.”
Find out more about the Gladys Watson Fund here.