IT is with great sadness we note the passing of former trustee Paul Harker, one of the keenest supporters of Dorset Community Foundation in its early days.
Mr Harker, who was 77, spent 24 years working in Dorset, first as district medical officer for West Dorset in 1982 and then ten years later as the county’s director of public health.
He pioneered programmes to reduce smoking, tackle obesity and prevent suicides among young men as well as working to improve the health of those living in the most deprived areas of the county.
It was as part of this determination that he set up up one of the community foundation’s first grantmaking funds, supporting health projects in the county.
Mr Harker, who was later seconded to be director of HealthWorks, Dorset’s health promotions agency and director of health promotion research at Bristol University, retired in 2006 but continued as a trustee of the Child Accident Prevention Trust and worked as a volunteer for the NSPCC and for the Alzheimer’s Society.
Fellow former trustee Colin Brady said of Mr Harker: “It was a role to which he brought expertise, wisdom, and personal commitment, that helped the Foundation overcome scepticism and doubt. As a new organisation it was perfectly reasonable that potential donors had questions, not least about our ability to make a lasting difference and be a trusted recipient of significant sums of money.
“His presence reassured people, helping them to see that it might be worth trying this new way of getting support to the people and communities that needed it most. And that reassurance was strengthened when he was able to get his own organisation to set up the Dorset Food and Health Fund with the Community Foundation. The success that we celebrate in the 21st year of Dorset Community Foundation is very much built upon Paul’s encouragement and support through those early days.”
Dorset Community Foundation director Grant Robson said: “This is very sad news. Especially in our 21st anniversary year. Paul leaves a legacy of vison, service and trusteeship which paved the way to where we are now, arguably Dorset’s most effective grant-maker.”
Mr Brady said he first met Mr Harker in 2001 when the organisation that would become Dorset Community Foundation was very much in its infancy.
His presence reassured people, helping them to see that it might be worth trying this new way of getting support to the people and communities that needed it most
He said: “Paul was one of the founder trustees involved in setting up the Community Foundation for Bournemouth and South East Dorset. I joined the group as they considered the possibilities of including all of Dorset and Poole as well.
“In those early days the board lacked balance, with many of us coming from charities. We needed the experience and contacts of people from the business and other sectors to convince donors that giving to the community foundation would attract additional investment in the local causes we wanted to support. Significant amounts of Government funding were going to bypass the county if there wasn’t an organisation with the expertise to distribute grants with local insight and a certain amount of wisdom.”
He said Mr Harker brought leadership experience from a different sector, and the ability to persuade others that a new organisation to support local community groups was needed. “Amidst the doubt and scepticism, Paul brought pragmatism and authority, and the encouragement of having persuaded his own organisation to work with us by setting up the Dorset Food and Health Fund,” said Mr Brady.
“Perhaps it was his clinical training that helped. Paul was a reassuring presence when we started talking to others about our vision for an organisation that would enable donors, individuals, companies, and other organisations, to get their money to where it was most needed and would make the biggest difference.”
Mr Harker was a trustee for the community foundation’s first five years and saw it grow from a pipe-dream into an effective and very significant grant-making body. “The Dorset Food and Health Fund and a handful of other early donors gave us a story to tell,” said Mr Brady. “By the time retirement on the Devon coast beckoned Paul’s support had helped the foundation to invest over two million pounds in local community groups.”