Big Giver: The Wolfson Foundation

Paul Ramsbottom, chief executive of the foundation, talks to Jenna Pudelek about seeking applications from under-represented regions

Paul Ramsbottom
Paul Ramsbottom

The Wolfson Foundation has postgraduate colleges at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge named after it, and is famous for funding excellence and its rigorous decision-making process.

But the grant-maker, established by Sir Isaac Wolfson in 1955 with shares from the retail group Great Universal Stores, of which he was then chair, is keen not to appear elitist.

Paul Ramsbottom, chief executive of the foundation, says: "We are not always looking at the usual suspects in terms of funding."

He says the foundation funds organisations across the UK and is actively engaged in trying to get good applications from parts of the country that produced fewer applicants in the past.

Grants are awarded in four areas: health and disability; arts and humanities; education; and science and medicine. Ramsbottom says most awards are for capital infrastructure projects, such as buildings and equipment, and many go to academic institutions.

However, almost all health and disability grants go to charities, he says.

"We look for high-quality services where there is active engagement with those using the services," he says. "It is capital funding, so we are interested in transformational projects that allow an organisation to get to the next level. We are looking for something that allows it to do something different and radically better."

Grants range from £10,000 to more than £1m. The foundation awarded £5m to Tate Modern for a development, for example. But Ramsbottom says it is rare that awards of more than £100,000 are made.

The available funding is about £30m a year. The foundation raised this to £50m in 2010/11, when organisations were "feeling the pinch", he says.

Recent grants include £88,000 towards the refurbishment of patient and visitor areas of Cornwall Hospice Care's Mount Edgcumbe site in St Austell.

Ramsbottom says the Wolfson family, who received the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, is still involved in the foundation. The majority of board members are not family, but the chair is Dame Janet Wolfson de Botton, granddaughter of Sir Isaac.

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