Jack Morris, co-founder of Islington Giving.
Islington is a borough steeped in inequality. Philanthropist Jack Morris, who runs businesses in the area, talks to Emily Wight about how he co-founded Islington Giving in an attempt to tackle these inequalities.
Philanthropist Jack Morris has always been aware of the inequality that stalks the streets of Islington where he has worked for 30 years.
But it was a 2008 report from anti-poverty charity the Cripplegate Foundation that made Morris really sit up. “I didn’t realise how acute and profound the social polarity was. The report went right beyond statistics and gave some really alarming portrayals of the sorts of hardships that people have in this borough, and I was very, very moved by it.”
“A lot of people see Islington as very affluent, very successful - that’s true, but it’s also a very disadvantaged community,” says Morris.
Inequality in the London borough is staggering. Research by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) last year found that those owning a house in Islington have an average income of £78,000, while those living in social housing have a yearly income of just £15,500.
According to 2011 figures, Islington is the fifth most deprived borough in London and the 14th most deprived borough in England. A recent report by Islington Council found that 45% of local children live in poverty.
Throughout his 30 years working in his family businesses such as the Business Design Centre Group (BDC), of which he is now Chairman, 18 years as Chair of Governors at City and Islington College and being involved in local charities, including the Morris Charitable Trust, Morris has developed what he calls a “huge emotional attachment” to Islington, although he has never lived there.
A few years ago, in partnership with the Cripplegate Foundation, Morris began to draft out ideas to tackle Islington’s inequality problem. It led to the birth of Islington Giving, a unique borough wide push against inequality that brings together a coalition of charities, businesses and residents that focus on projects across the borough. Four years on, it has raised £3.3m and supports more than 40 charities, mainly dealing in three key areas: tackling poverty, investing in young people, and confronting social isolation.
Its success has been noted. Working with London Funders, the City of London Corporation’s charity, City Bridge Trust, is now exploring how other London boroughs can take a leaf out of Islington Giving’s book and encourage local engagement in a way that suits the specific needs of the local area. Morris says: “I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all solution to this - I think you’ve got to look at the reasons and try to address them.”
Inequality is a serious problem and threatens the very fabric of society and order. “It is one that can, at worst, cause violent unrest,” Morris says, pointing to the UK-wide riots of 2011. “We’ve got to make sure people aren’t left behind”, he said: “The real wake-up call where people feel they’re being left out is that they get to a place where they’re so desperate that anger breaks out.”
Morris, who comes from a business family, feels corporates have a bigger role to play in safeguarding the community. “My parents made it very clear to me that if you’re fortunate enough to be in a position to do so, it’s your social responsibility to give back to the community,” he said.
In 1989, his family founded the Morris Charitable Trust, funded from the profits generated from their businesses - BDC among them - to support projects around Islington and beyond.
And by giving back, Morris doesn’t just focus on financial donations. He is involved hands-on and encourages others to be.
One of Islington Giving’s projects that he takes pride in is the Business for Islington Giving (BIG) Alliance, a corporate volunteering programme that links local companies and City professionals with community projects. One of its flagship schemes has taken mentors into schools; students then benefit by visiting mentors in their business environment. Since the mentoring programme started, schools have reported an increase in student grades, mainly due to a confidence boost.
This summer, Morris led by example as he headed a team of BDC cyclists on the “Angel2Angel” bike ride - a 375 mile charity cycle between the Angel of the North and Angel, Islington. The team raised £30,000 for Islington Giving’s charities.
Morris said the bike ride brought his staff closer together, and has, in the long term, benefitted the company. “I’d say to anyone thinking of doing an event like this that it’s a marvellous social bonding activity. I had a fantastic week of spending time with people from all walks of life in our company, working as a team in support of a great local cause,” he said.
To find out more about the work Islington Giving does please click here.