Philanthropy Podcasts: Emma Turner speaks to Steve Morgan
In this episode Director of Barclays Private Bank Philanthropy Service, Emma Turner, speaks to Steve Morgan about his foundation’s mission to deliver social change and improve the lives of vulnerable and disadvantaged people.
Emma Turner (ET): Hello, my name is Emma Turner, and I run the philanthropy service at Barclays Private Bank. We started this service in 2009 and the aim is to help our clients and their families achieve their philanthropic aspiration.
We do this for our individual conversations, bespoke literature and exclusive in conversation with events where I interview fascinating people about their lives and why philanthropy is important to them.
I'm very excited that we've moved these events to a new format, which I describe as being like Desert Island Discs without the music.
I'm delighted to be joined by Steve Morgan today, he is the is the founder of Redrow as well as the Steve Morgan Foundation. He founded the business in 1974 with the aid of a five-thousand-pound loan from his father.
I grew the business from a sewage and drainage construction company to become one of the UK's leading home builders. He floated the company in 1994 and stepped down as chairman in November 2000 to pursue other interests.
He then returned to Redrow in 2009, once again taking over as chairman. He saved the business from probable insolvency, turning losses of 360 million over the previous two years into a one million profit in the first year and in 2019 he retired from the business, but in 2001 he'd set up the Steve Morgan Foundation, which is now one of the largest charitable trusts in the UK.
The foundation's mission is to deliver social change to improve the lives of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. It funds projects across Merseyside, Cheshire and North Wales that provide practical, targeted support.
Over the years Steve has given more than 300 million to the foundation, and they have awarded grants of 26 million in the past three years alone. He was awarded the OBE in 1992 for services to the construction industry and the CBE in 2016 for philanthropy.
Well, hello, Steve. How are you today?
Steve Morgan (SM): Very good, Emma. Thank you. How are you?
ET: I'm very well, thank you. Bit hot, but I'm fine. Yeah. I know that you've seen the questions that we're going to go through, I'm going to sort of combine the first two and then let you tell the story.
So, a little bit about your family upbringing and your career and then really looking at, you know, do you think it was nature or nurture that led you along your path to philanthropy? And what role has your family played in this journey?
SM: Okay, well, I grew up in Liverpool and I lived in Liverpool till I was 13 years old. At that time, I moved to North Wales. My parents and my father had a job in North Wales and I moved down there.
So, I finished my education in North Wales. But by the time I got to O levels at 16, I'd lived in no less than nine different locations and went to nine different schools, most of those in Liverpool.
And if it's always nervous when you go to new schools, etc., but when you go to brand new schools in some of the toughest areas in Liverpool, which is where I grew up, erm where I went to school, it's particularly unnerving and I think it helped shape me as a person.
Every time I went anywhere; it was either fight or flight. I always chose the former and that I think it took for me up as a person. It certainly made me I suppose not afraid of any situation you didn't have; you couldn't be afraid of any situation.
And I think it I wouldn't recommend my upbringing to anybody because it was it was a tougher, tough upbringing. I lived in Toxteth twice. I lived in Garston, and I lived in a place called Western, which is even tougher than both of them.
So, yeah, that I think shaped me. I think it shaped me as a person.
I think it gave me fantastic grounding for business. When I started Redrow, I used to work like hell. It was literally seven days a week, 12, 14 hour days and that's how I built the business up. And it made me very uncompromising, very I suppose I was a sort to do it because I would just take no prisoners with anything.
So, is it nature or nurture? I think it’s definitely nature. I think my upbringing helped with the way I am, I suppose, but I suppose it's in my nature.
As a teenager when I moved to North Wales. I always did two paper rounds from 13 through two till I left school at 16. I always did two paper rounds every morning. I always did summer jobs, Easter jobs, even Christmas jobs, if I could get them. So that was sort of in my nature to just to be a hard, hard working person.
ET: A grafter
SM: Yeah, a grafter.
ET: And, so looking back, just very quickly, do you think if your dad hadn't given you that 5000 pounds loan life would have been very different or from the sound of it? Do you think you would have gone and found a way to get it? Because that must've been a significant amount of money at the time.
SM: I always appreciate it to a five-thousand-pound loan. But the reality was that I tried to get a business registered and I couldn't get the paperwork done in time for this contract that I'd managed to secure. So, he let me use a one of his small companies which wasn't particularly active, and I use the credit facilities in there to about 5000 pounds.
I think I would have found it tough without it. But I got there one way or another. I did have a Plan B through the company I was I was working for at the time who I left to do this contract. But, um, no, as do without doubt, the leg up that my father gave me was very pivotal and pretty crucial at the time.
ET: So, I want to really focus on your philanthropy, because it is quite extraordinary, not just in the numbers, but just in the way you've gone about it.
So was there a particular trigger event that made you set up the Steve Morgan Foundation or had you been doing bits and pieces before and realised that you would be better served by doing it through a sort of like a foundation where you could kind of channel it to the right places? How did that happen?
SM: Well, I think, again, it goes back to probably to my childhood growing up in the cold and disadvantaged areas, I used to call them the tough areas of Liverpool, you see a lot of poverty.
I saw poverty with the kids I went to school with. I had good parents and so I was always turned out reasonably well, as well as they could afford, but around me, I used to see a lot of kids who had abject poverty and awful parents, quite frankly, parents who had just almost throw them out on the street and their father would be in the pub all the time or etc.
I always felt that once I was successful, if you like, and had surplus funds, that I should try and do my bit to help people like the ones I grew up with in the areas I grew up with.
So that was a sort of driving force originally, and I always gave a lot to charity when I was when I was in Redrow.
But then when I left in 2000, November 2000, just in the run up to that, I'd sacrifice my last three years’ salary in Redrow. So, I didn't take a penny in salary, didn't take a penny and bonus. The only thing I did take, I had a company car and some BUPA, I think.
But other than that, I gave every everything to Alder Hey Hospital. And they were they were building an oncology unit for children's oncology unit. And I had a lot to do with raising money for that oncology unit. I went on a three hundred and sixty-five-mile walk across the Pyrenees trying to set up a Guinness Book of Records, which we set it, by the way.
But there's a technical fault that they didn't publish it, which I was pretty cross about. I mean, all the bloody blisters that went with it. But we set it. We actually raised that same figure 365,000 pounds, which again back in 1998 was a lot of money for Alder Hay.
And the one trigger I say was a young boy. Well, I've got I've got a photograph in the foundation offices of myself with young George, who was four years old. He lost all his hair with chemotherapy. And the day we were doing it, we set off for the walk. But a number of the children came to a Liverpool airport to wave as off.
And one of the nurses, the sister on the ward, in fact, who I’d got very friendly with, pulled me to one side and said, I'm not sure that George is going to be here when you get back.
Which even to this day, I fill up with a….
The second day of the walk, it was driving Blizzard. It was freezing cold. We were probably 15 hundred meters up in the Pyrenees and it was coming right after driving rain. We started our daily walks at 6:00 in the morning and walked through to about 6:00, 7:00 at night. And it was relentless. The whole day, it did not stop the whole day. And the three guys I was with were all saying, you know, why don't we just ease off today?
And I just remembered George and George took us through that day. It was a horrible day. And when I came back, I think from that moment onwards, I always thought I'd do something for charity.
And when I when I stepped out of Redrow in November 2000, I think about within six months I set up the foundation that set us off on our way.
ET: Well, that's an incredibly moving story. If you've gone on any more about George, I think I would've started crying because I find those stories incredibly moving and really important to hear them being told, because I think if you honour those moments, that's what drives, you know, the most successful and the most fulfilling philanthropy. That's what I've come across over the years.
It doesn't sound to me like you've changed your original mission at all or very much. Or have you. Have I. Did I. Did I miss something? Or are you still doing what you set out to do?
SM: We set out to with some concentrate on the area I'm from, which is Merseyside. I now live in Cheshire and having moved to North Wales, I spent 30 years in North Wales. I started Redrow in North Wales. So, this is my home patch, if you like, North Wales area and Cheshire if you like. And we still do try and focus our philanthropy on those areas.
There’re actually not many successful people in that patch who put the money in. Whereas if you cross over the M6 and go to the Manchester area, there's a lot more successful entrepreneurs there and who are able to support the charities in that patch. So, because they do, we don't. We stick to our patch.
However, we have changed. I mean, the charities we support most are Maggie's Centres, we're currently building one. It would have been finished this September if it hadn’t been for the COVID lockdowns, but we'll get it finished very early in 2021. But that's roofed now and it's works going on inside, it's great to see that.
And we're building another one in the Royal Liverpool afterwards. That first one is in Clatterbridge in the Wirral. So, Maggie's is a national Centre, but again, we're concentrating [a national charity], but again we're concentrating on Maggies within our patch.
But the other one which we support is JDRF. My stepson has got type one diabetes and JDRF, which are probably the largest diabetes research for type one in the world. So, they're a worldwide organisation. We support the UK one that is very much the reason we support it; we've given over four million pounds so far to find a cure for diabetes and we're going to go and give some direct grants in the future so that four million will grow very rapidly over the next few years.
But it's so, so. So, yes, it's. It has changed, I think, where we're trying to probably reinvent ourselves at the minute. We're looking at a lot more things. We're looking at some fabulous initiatives, a cradle to career initiative on in North Birkenhead, where we will literally try and intercept young people almost from the day they're born and try and guide them through a better path to try and break the cycle of poverty and deprivation that that region currently lives in.
This is something we're really looking forward to. Very early stages, but it's a brand new mission for us. And that could be very, very significant, both regionally and nationally if our pilot scheme works out. So, yeah, we're very much looking to that.
We're also looking touching along the road of probably one person, one of my sort of heroes in the philanthropy world, if you like, which is the George Peabody from the Peabody Trust. My background, of course, is in housing.
So, we're looking at some opportunities to house young people who would otherwise be probably be sent into care homes, we're looking at real bottom end of society who are trying to change them into a new form of home before the system gets them and turns them into criminality and gangs and drugs etc.
So, this is another initiative. We're early days, but I'd like to think that this would be about building a new style of small family home type environment. That would be if it comes off, that would be a real change of direction for us as well. We're looking for new things all the time.
ET: It sounds like a sort of early intervention programme.
ET: Which they do a lot of in the state and I feel that we could do a lot more here.
So, I'm excited about seeing what you do.
I think we need to talk about COVID because you are, I’ll let you say why you decided, but you stepped up to the plate in a way that I don't think anybody else maybe hasn't been able to.
Maybe you were able to, but I seem to remember that you within the first week committed, am I right? was a million pounds a week.
And you've extended that. I think it was for the first three months. And I believe you've extended it. So, sitting there when COVID broke and we were all sitting in lockdown, what made you, I suppose, what drove you to that phenomenally generous gesture to do that? And what's it been like for you?
SM: Yes. Very simple Emma what happened is the second lockdown was announced. The phone started literally ringing and ringing and ringing. And it's the same story we were hearing from all of the charities we support, bearing in mind we support at any one time around about 150 charities.
But altogether we've supported probably getting on for 700 charities and that the phones were non-stop ringing with charities who were saying, oh, my God, what are we going to do?
You know we had; we've got people running in the in the London Marathon, we've got fundraising events, all our normal fundraising has been curtailed from us, and we honestly don't know what to do. Can you help? And that came through to our teams working here.
And it became pretty obvious within a matter of days that we were looking at a crisis here on a lot of our charities who had done so well over the years and many of whom are hand-to-mouth, they literally have at any one-time funding for two, three months ahead.
And you could see that this was when it was announced, the prime minister said this was going to last for at least three months. So, they were looking at the precipice. So, we said “Look, we can’t let this happen. We can't let our charities just fold after all these years. And what happens to all the people that they support?”
And at the very time the people who rely on these charities need the charities the most is during this pandemic. So, we literally announced within days of the of the lockdown being announced that we would that we would support an emergency COVID fund in place. And we said it will be up to a million pounds a week.
ET: I mean, it's quite it's phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal. And how's that how's that going, if you like? Do you see yourself happy to continue it sort of longer than you anticipated? Or do you think that you…
SM: It was announced for three months, but what happened very shortly afterwards was that other initiatives came in. We went very public about it because what I wanted to do was try and inspire other people to also come out and help. And I think it's fair to say that that did happen.
Not perhaps to the same extent, but a lot of other people stepped up to the mark and helped out in over the following months. And then the government came out with some funding for charities.
So, in fact, the take-up, although it was running in the first few weeks at about a million and a half pound a week tailed off. So, we actually we got up to about six and a half million pounds.
So, we extended it for a further three months. And we're now working on another initiative which will extend it again through to March next year. But it's still too early to say about that one.
ET: Okay. So, I'm going to turn to you a bit more now. What do you get from your giving?
SM: I think a sense of pride that I'm in a lucky position of being able to give something back. I mean, one of the things that we do each year, we do a Christmas party for disadvantaged and disabled children that we support and we do it at our hotel next door, Richard Carleton Park.
And in the function room there we'll have, you know, three hundred, three hundred and twenty children and their carers and people. And I love that afternoon. And I'm amongst the kids the whole afternoon and I'm talking to them and I mean, you know, the amount of times that you might get hundreds of them from Liverpool or Birkenhead.
They've never been out of the town before, they've never seen “wow you've got sheep here” And they've just never seen anything like it. They've never been to a Christmas party like it, cos we have a Santa and we have we have a grotto and where we do all sorts of kids' entertainment and every child leaves with a present, with a slap up meal.
Dozens and dozens and dozens of young kids that come to me and said this is the best day of their lives. It chokes me up, to be honest. I'm just a big softie, really.
ET: You are.
SM: And I, I have to take a handkerchief with me, for God's sake. Because there's always one or two kids who just make me cry, you know. But I love it. I absolutely love it.
So, what do I get out of that? I get a great deal of satisfaction that for three hundred odd children, we're giving them a Christmas. For 300 odd children, we're giving them a Christmas, that's arguably their best ever and certainly one they wouldn't have had if they hadn't come to the party.
And then we also do an annual conference where we invite the charities along that we support to a conference and we run it for a full day and we have breakout sessions and everything. And again, by bringing people together, we get best practice from all of the charities. At the end of the charity, we usually allow half an hour to say goodbye.
And generally speaking, about an hour and a half later, I'm still there talking to everybody. And they're all saying, wow, you know, the way not only to be supported financially, but the way we go about it. We care as a foundation. We go right in where we're working with them. I think they find it so different from any anybody else that supports them. And again, I get great satisfaction from that.
Then of course, the charity visit. I love going to the charity visits. Again, I get so inspired by some of the people who give their lives over to working for others. And I come away and think, well, I do nothing really unique compared to just some of the some of the people who literally seven days a week are helping others. I get a great deal of satisfaction that we at least can help them, help others.
ET: It's so nice to hear that, you're a true venture philanthropist, actually, because it's not just about the money. It's helping them be better organisations. And I love the fact that you're a big softy because I think most philanthropists are somewhat, but they don't often admit that.
Right, I’ve got two final questions. What's been your proudest moment today, if there is one? And what's next for Steve Morgan?
SM: I think I've probably covered the proudest moments. I mean, there's no particular proud, proud moment because there's been so many highlights. But again, I come back to the Christmas party. I come back to the conference. I'm very proud of what we did.
We were absolutely first out there with the COVID Emergency Fund. And I think I look back at that and think, you know, we reacted right at the very within days. Within days we were out.
So that's great. I'm looking forward to handing over the keys to the first Maggies. That would be a very proud moment as indeed, we built a youth zone in Wolverhampton, about six million pounds, seven million pounds youth zone to keep the kids off the street in more vans. And that was a very proud moment handing that over.
So, yeah, I don't think there's any one thing I think its overall sense of achievement, really.
ET: And what's next?
SM: Oh, you know what that's a good question. I am very much looking forward to the Cradle to Careers project. I think this is something that's very different to anything that's been done in the UK before.
I know we've got the Royal Foundation following what we're doing because I think the Duchess, it's something that's very close to her heart, and so maybe at some stage we're hoping to get the royal family, the Duchess of Cambridge involved maybe at some stage along the line.
Yeah, that's it. I'm looking forward to what we can do with these new homes for young children. I think that could be really quite exciting.
And again, it's just something there'll be a brand new first for the U.K. So, if we can, we can prove the model works in Merseyside and I'm sure other people will roll it out throughout the country.
Yeah, there's plenty to do out there, that’s for sure.
ET: So I'm going to say, Steve Morgan, thank you so much for joining me today. It's been an absolute pleasure to hear you talk. And I look forward to watching your progress over the coming months and the coming years. And I can't wait to hear more about the programmes you talked about today. Thank you so much.
SM: Thank you, Emma.