My late Grandma, Eleanor Hills, was born in 1898, and she lived until she was 99. When she was a girl in London, she would have walked past institutions built by visionary philanthropists, such as Toynbee Hall in Whitechapel.
Toynbee Hall was built by Samuel and Henrietta Barnett in 1884, in memory of their friend Arnold Toynbee. Arnold had studied history at Oxford and dedicated his short life (he died at 31) to working with the poor in Whitechapel. The Barnetts believed in breaking down the divides by getting rich and poor to live and work together. Notable ‘alumni’ of Toynbee Hall include social reformers Clement Attlee and William Beveridge.
Samuel, Henrietta, and Arnold were part of a wider movement of philanthropists who responded to the increasing divide between rich and poor in the 1800s. To remember them, their names adorn our schools, hospitals, libraries, parks, and gardens– even if we have forgotten their stories.
As Matthew Bishop and Michael Green describe in their book “Philanthrocapitalism – How the Rich Can Save the World”, philanthropy thrives at times when the divide between rich and poor is at its greatest. As we know, all the evidence tells us that we are in one of those periods – in fact, the gap between rich and poor is bigger than it has ever been.
My dear Grandma would find the scenes we see in cities around the world sadly familiar to those she grew up with in London in the early C20. She would want to know why we had not “sorted it all out by now” and would have suggested that the rich should “handover their cash.” She was a straight talker! She would, however, have been quite impressed by the emerging group of big philanthropists who are giving at least 1% of their wealth. The Sunday Times Rich List comes out this week and 105 of the 300 names on it have given 1% or more.
Only 105? Dear Grandma, however, would have quickly turned to the 105 names on the list who don’t give at least 1% and would have told them to “buck up their ideas.” Here, I am saying it for her.
– Susie Hills, Managing Director