Big Giver: The Ernest Cook Trust

Nicholas Ford, director of the trust, tells Jenna Pudelek why it doesn't have long application forms and prefers to talk to people directly

Nicholas Ford
Nicholas Ford

The Ernest Cook Trust, an educational charity, supports projects that are "not terribly sexy" and would struggle to attract funding elsewhere, according to its director, Nicholas Ford.

Launched in 1952 by the philanthropist Ernest Cook, grandson of the travel agency founder Thomas Cook, the trust provides educational grants to charities and not-for-profit organisations that work with children and young people.

The trust is funded by income from the 22,000 acres of landed estates it owns and manages. In 2013, it will award £1.7m of grants to organisations that work in the environment, the arts, and literacy and numeracy.

Ford says: "We look for a project that is reaching quite a lot of people for the amount of money it is going to cost - so good-value projects, perhaps not terribly sexy, that are not going to attract some of the bigger funders."

The trust deals with many organisations that do not have professional fundraisers, he says, and applicants are encouraged to telephone the grants administrator to talk about their applications. "We don't go in for great long application forms - it is quite light-touch," he says. "We like to talk to people."

The trust has recently experienced an increase in the number of applications, particularly related to the arts. It funds core costs, but not capital projects. Smaller grants - classed as less than £4,000 - are on average worth about £2,500 and larger grants - more than £4,000 - about £10,000. Ford says the trust is also keen on supporting small organisations.

Recent grants include £10,000 to the Garden Classroom, which provides outside learning, for funding for an education officer. It also gave £1,650 to the Stroudwater Textile Trust for an exhibition called The Art of Kalamkari, which brought Indian textile artists to Stroud, Gloucestershire, to work with local children.

Ford says the trust's founder, Ernest Cook, was ahead of his time in terms of conserving the environment and sustainable living.

"His picture sits on my office wall," says Ford. "I think he would be pleased about what we are doing in his name."

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