How Scotland’s secret millions could help charities


IT was the legacy of an 18th century saddlemaker that part of the fortune he left should go to feed those in need and supply oats to the poor.

Joseph Thomson bequeathed money for a trust fund to be set up in the 1770s with the aim to help those where food was scarce.

The Edinburgh fund went on to help families for 200 years and was still offering some form of food parcel or vouchers in to the 1950 and 60s.

However, it had lain dormant for 50 years when it was rediscovered and through charitable organisation Foundation Scotland it was revitalised and transformed into a fund which is still helping people today through its Living Well Fund which offers grant aid to food initiatives including the Edinburgh City Mission’s ‘Soul Meals’ project. It offers a weekly meal to people who are homeless.

It was just one of hundreds of sleepy trusts in Scotland which for various reasons have either become irrelevant or simply forgotten about.

And it is thought there could be millions of pounds of untapped funds in sleepy trusts across the country which could be helping charitable projects through grant aid to this day.

It’s why Foundation Scotland, a charity that manages and distributes charitable funds, is beginning a search to rediscover sleepy trusts and follows on from a similar project in England which uncovered £32million from dormant trusts. The Revitalising Trusts project aims to identify charitable trusts registered in Scotland that appear to be inactive and support them to reactivate by using funds that are lying dormant.

“The story of Joseph Thomson’s legacy is quite remarkable and one we discovered around 11 years ago,” said Giles Ruck, chief executive, of Foundation Scotland. “To think that we have been able to revitalise a trust which was aimed at ensuring people were supplied with oats into one which is still has the same intent is quite something.

“We have the original document, which is almost impossible to read, but it was intended to supply oats to the poor. We saw that it was still helping with grocery vouchers in the 1950s and 60s and then it seems to stop.

“We were able to re-enact it and through the Living Well fund it is still paying out grants to projects in the same area it was set up. When the trust was rediscovered there was £130,000 in it and through managing and investments it rose to £300,000. In 11 years we have made grants of around £15,000 a year to projects involved in helping people.”

Foundation Scotland, which celebrated it 25th anniversary last year, helps distribute charitable funds on behalf of individuals, families, charitable trusts, companies and public bodies across Scotland to allow communities take action, create positive change and deliver lasting impact. Since it was set up, the community foundation has distributed more than £100 million.

Working with the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR), Foundation Scotland believe there is an opportunity to unlock additional funding for charities and other community and voluntary groups across Scotland.

So-called sleepy trusts are identified as charities that have either had no income or expenditure over the last 5 years or have donated less than 30% of their total income over the last five years to help good causes. The project will also look at charitable trusts that have failed to submit annual accounts and reports to OSCR within the last five years.

Mr Ruck added that while the full value of Scotland’s ‘sleepy trusts’ has yet to be established, it could amount to several millions of pounds.

He added: “There are over 3,400 charitable trusts on the Scottish Charity Register and OSCR’s initial findings have identified around 400 that may not be using their funds to full effect.”

Maureen Mallon, OSCR chief executive, said: “The public expects charities to use their funds to fulfil their charitable purposes and deliver public benefit, but sometimes charity trustees need a little help or encouragement to do so. If trusts are underperforming, we want to find out why and, through our partnership with Foundation Scotland, to offer assistance or a wake-up call where necessary.”

Mr Ruck added that while it might take some time this is an exciting opportunity to modernise many historic trusts, and revitalise others, and enable them to invest in our communities once again.

He added: “We work with registered and unregistered voluntary and community groups all over Scotland. We will ensure revitalised funds can also provide support to the smaller, lesser-known community groups working on the frontline across Scotland’s communities.”


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