Paul Cornes’ partner Tom Flood chose Dorset Community Foundation to set up the Paul Cornes Fund in memory of the 64-year-old, who died last June. Proceeds from the fund are used to support the Dorset Bursary Fund, which gives grants of up to £1,000 to help young people aged 16 to 25 take up vocational studies they could not otherwise afford. The grants support students at six colleges and are used for travel to college, buying required equipment (including laptops) and for essential study trips.
This year it awarded £31,000 to 60 youngsters to help them take up courses in 2020/21. Among the subjects they will be studying are blacksmithery, animal care and uniformed public services.
Said Tom: “The legacy of the fund is terribly important to me and what I want people to know is I am just enormously proud of Paul and what he did in his life. What I would like most of all is to help young people do one of the things he thought was most important – to be able to make something of themselves.”
He said education was something that Paul, who was born in Liverpool and fended for himself from the age of 16, believed in strongly after making his way through college against his father’s wishes. “At 18 he became the first person in his family to go to the polytechnic and got his degree, much to the annoyance of his father who thought he should have got a job.
“It always stuck with Paul that he was the first person in his family who went to college and who made education something important in his mind.”
Tom met Paul in London in 1997, at the time Paul was working for Prudential as its head of social responsibility. He moved on to legal firm Linklaters in a similar role.
“When he found out that only partners travelled business class, he freaked out and resigned because that was Paul, he never went economy,” laughed Tom, who worked in the voluntary sector and was chief executive of community volunteering charity Conservation Volunteers when he retired. “So Paul retired at 54 and he was fine with that, he was very good at keeping himself busy.”
The couple moved to Boscombe in 2010 after spotting a flat at Honeycombe Beach and then six years ago they moved to Talbot Woods.
“Paul was quite nervous about us as a couple moving into a small place like this but our neighbours are fantastic and we all socialise together,” said Tom. “They have been absolutely wonderful since Paul died.”
He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017. “We knew at that stage it was terminal because it had spread. We did think we would get longer but unfortunately because of Covid his chemotherapy had to be stopped and he died here at home, which was his absolute wish. We got a hospital bed for him and the Macmillan nurses were just fantastic to us.”
Among the many tributes to him left on memorial site Forever Missed, comedian and TV presenter Paul O’Grady, who had been friends with Paul since the 1970s, wrote: “Paul was one of the good guys who certainly enhanced my teenage years and I’m glad that he was a friend. Paul was taken far too soon, but I won’t forget him.”
Tom decided he wanted the devastating loss of his partner to bring about something positive, he said. “I wanted his memory to be kept alive and, because he adored Dorset, when I discovered the community foundation I thought it was an ideal partner to set up a fund with,” he added. “It’s a safe mechanism to get money out to those in need and I can get as involved as I want.
“I came up with the idea of what I wanted the fund to be used for but I am not wedded to that and if the foundation came to me next year and said they wanted to use it for something different, then I am very relaxed about that. I just want some good, some joy and some hope to be brought into people’s lives because of Paul’s fund.”
Tom has been involved with the awarding of bursary grants and has been struck by the life-changing power of grants that give young people an opportunity to choose a career path they would otherwise be denied.
“I sat on the bursary panel recently and I was just transfixed by the stories I was reading,” he said. “These grants are transforming so many young people’s futures and it’s very powerful. Our Paul, as we always called him, would be chuffed to see the impact his fund has made.”