Charity distribution - the great divide

The City of London has the highest density of charities in England and Wales and Blackpool the lowest. But do the numbers tell the whole story? Patrick McCurry reports

Blackpool and London
Blackpool and London

In many ways, the City of London and Blackpool offer stark contrasts. The Square Mile is a thriving global financial and business centre, with a highly skilled and well-paid workforce. Blackpool, while still a major tourist destination, is a working-class town facing major economic and social challenges.

The contrast holds good for the number of registered charities based in the two places. According to figures from the Register of Charities in England and Wales, the City of London has the highest number of charities per thousand inhabitants, at 150, while Blackpool has the lowest, at just one. But what are the historical and cultural reasons for this disparity, and do the figures tell the whole story?

The first thing to recognise is that the City and, to a lesser degree, Blackpool, are both unusual areas. The City is the cradle of UK finance and business and attracts 320,000 people to its offices every working day - but fewer than 8,000 people actually live there. It is also the base for some of the world's leading banks, law firms and businesses, many of them offering support - financial and staff - to charitable organisations.

Huge influx

Blackpool, home to about 140,000 people, also attracts a huge temporary influx - about 10 million tourists a year. It is also, outside Greater London, the fourth most densely populated local authority district in the UK.

There are several factors that help to explain the huge disparity in the density of registered charities between the two. One is the City's tiny resident population; another is the fact that many City-based charities operate throughout the capital and beyond and simply happen to have their base in the Square Mile for historical reasons.

The City is home to more than 1,100 registered charities, ranging from multimillion-pound organisations to the Barbican Playgroup, which employs two part-time workers. "Our constituency is about 390 organisations, ranging from small estate-based groups to the British Red Cross," says Mark Pudge, director of City.comm, which supports voluntary and community organisations in the City and is part of Voluntary Action Westminster.

A large proportion of charities are registered in the City simply because that is where their lawyers or accountants are based.

The City also has the historic livery companies, which began as guilds in the Middle Ages and evolved into charitable organisations. A handful of these companies are extremely wealthy, and in 2006 they awarded grants of £41m.

Edward Windsor Clive, clerk to the trustees of the Turners Company, the livery company representing lathe workers, says: "The City has always been a place to make money. People who made their fortune in the past didn't want to see it go to the government when they died, which meant they left it either to the church or the livery companies."

Although the long-established charities make up a large proportion of the City's philanthropic community, it also includes a number of newer charities set up by people who have recently made their money in business and want to do something positive with part of their wealth. For example, in 2008, a number of wealthy people from the City's futures and options industry set up Futures for Kids, which supports children's projects.

Pudge adds that charities in the City tend to be either very large or very small. "That's because office costs are so high here," he says.

However, this is not always the case. In some circumstances small voluntary organisations have been able to obtain good deals on accommodation, says Bharat Mehta, chief executive of City-based grant maker Trust for London (formerly the City Parochial Foundation). "Some buildings are rented out for relatively low prices if they are due to be redeveloped, and a number of charities have taken advantage of this," he says.

Based elsewhere

While the City has a much larger number of charities than its population size would suggest, Blackpool has far fewer. Paul Greenwood, chief executive of Blackpool Housing Association, says this is partly because the town occupies a relatively small geographical area. "Many charities that are active in Blackpool are based elsewhere, such as in Manchester or in neighbouring boroughs." As an example, he points out that it is the regional office of Groundwork, which is based in Wigan, that runs Blackpool's LINk network for improving health and social care.

Another factor may be that the figures do not include the many third sector organisations in Blackpool, such as small community groups or industrial and provident societies, that are not registered charities.

A further contrast between Blackpool and the City is their economic position. Whereas the City jostles with New York's Wall Street for the title of world financial centre, Blackpool faces serious economic and social challenges. In the 1950s, it attracted up to 17 million visitors a year, but it suffered from the arrival of package holidays to the Mediterranean in the 1960s and 1970s.

Away from the glitzy sea front it has significant deprivation and overcrowding, with qualifications and skills very low by national standards. It is the most deprived area of Lancashire and has one of the nation's lowest life expectancy rates; it is ranked 372 out of 376 districts in England and Wales.

Despite all this, there is a feeling of community spirit and resilience, says Ruth Lambert, chair of Blackpool, Wyre and Fylde Council for Voluntary Service, and chief executive of the town's Age Concern. "We're a resourceful lot," she says. "I believe Blackpool has one of the highest levels of charity donations per capita, which doesn't surprise me, as the less well-off often give most."

"The figures don't match my perception of the town's voluntary and community sector," she adds. "I have found it to be thriving, particularly now because we have a very supportive local authority."

John Booth, company secretary at NVision North West (formerly the Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Society for the Blind), says: "You can't always trust what statistics say and, while I'm not an expert on other localities, I don't feel we're worse off in terms of the number of charities active here. The local people are very supportive, as we've found at our charity over the years."

FACTFILE

- The highest and lowest densities of charities in England and Wales

- The Charity Commission data on the number of charities per thousand people in local authorities in England and Wales shows the average number is 3.76, and the median average - the figure half way down the list - is 2.43.

- The 10 authorities with the lowest figures are in less wealthy areas; the top 10 includes both wealthy and less wealthy.

TOP 10
1. City of London 150.20
2. Westminster 17.24
3. Camden 10.08
4. Isles of Scilly 7.16
5. Powys 7.02
6. Hackney 6.48
7. Islington 6.37
8. Barnet 5.83
9. Herefordshire 5.30
10. Kensington & Chelsea 5.26

BOTTOM 10
163. North East Lincs 1.34
164. Blaenau Gwent 1.34
165. Sunderland 1.32
166. Stoke-on-Trent 1.31
167. Sandwell 1.27
168. St Helens 1.26
169. Wigan 1.11
170. Knowsley 1.04
171. South Tyneside 1.01
172. Blackpool 1.00

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