He made a fortune in business and set up a 100m charitable foundation. Terry Bramall tells Sarah Freeman why it’s better to give than to receive.
The coffee table in Terry Bramall’s Harrogate home is piled high with books.
In one corner, there’s a copy of Kobbé’s bible for opera lovers, beside it a collection chronicling artists’ impressions of York over the centuries and next to that a guide on how to read the architecture of churches. The only thing missing, perhaps, is a history of Doncaster Rovers, but otherwise it pretty much sums up the interests of the man, who, together with his wife Liz, is among the country’s leading philanthropists.
It was in 2007 that the Bramalls graduated to the league of the super-rich when Terry sold his construction company Keepmoat and walked away with in excess of £500m. By the time the deal was done, he had already delegated much of the day-to-day responsibility for running of the firm to the management team, but while he was more than ready to step away, he was never going to slip quietly into retirement. Then in his mid 60s, he was also too old and too wise to allow himself to be changed by the money.
“It was and is a staggering amount of money, more than anyone could ever justifiably spend,” says Terry, who counts golf and playing the organ at church among his hobbies. “Liz and I and our two daughters have been lucky, we’ve always enjoyed a good life and when we sold the business we saw that there was a real opportunity to help others.”
The family came to a decision and set up the Liz and Terry Bramall Foundation with a £100m endowment. The profit generated from the fund is substantial and has allowed them to pledge £1m a year for five years to the Prince’s Trust as well as making donations to one-off good causes.
Over the last six years, they’ve supported arts organisations like Northern Ballet, sponsored the Leeds International Pianoforte Competition and the list of charities which have benefited from the foundation ranges from Botton Village in North Yorkshire to the inclusive London theatre company Chickenshed.
“We didn’t want to start our own charity and employ an administration team to run it because we quickly recognised there are a lot of organisations out there which already do great work. We all felt that giving money direct to worthy causes was the best way of making a difference.”
So far, the foundation’s biggest single donation has been to Terry’s old university, Birmingham, for a new music building. He was contacted by the clearly savvy alumni department not long after news of the Keepmoat sale was announced. The university had already raised a significant amount of money to restore a group of historic buildings, but still needed more to complete the project.
“As a bit of a joke, I asked them how much it would cost to finish the work and to put my name on the front of the building,” he says. The answer was £2m and just before Christmas Terry and Liz were special guests at the official opening of Birmingham University’s Bramall Music Building. Going public with such a substantial donation is generally seen as a very un-British way of doing things, but he hopes it might encourage more private donations.
“When we went to the official opening the alumni staff asked if they could pick our brains about the best way of approaching potential donors and one question they asked was, ‘Have you had any negative response to the foundation?’ We haven’t, but apparently it is quite common, I suppose it can be misinterpreted as showing off. It’s in our nature to be low key, so any project we decide to attach our name to is the result of an awful lot of soul searching.”
While philanthropy has flourished in the US, it’s not as widely talked about in Britain. However, with major gaps appearing in public spending budgets, donations from private individuals have never been more key. According to the Coutts Institute, which began charting British philanthropy in the UK five years ago, more could be done to encourage charitable donations among the country’s elite.
Its latest report showed that in 2010/2011 there were 130 million pound donors compared to 73 in 2009/2010. However, the total value of those donations was £1.2bn, down from £1.3bn the previous year. While Terry admits that with both his daughters having married, the Bramall Music Building is a nice way of keeping his surname alive for a few years yet, he can trace his philanthropic streak back much further than 2007. His father, he says, taught him the importance of looking after those less fortunate and also not to believe those who shy away from using money made in the commercial world for charitable ends.
“Both Liz and I were brought up in families who believed in community, my father was the kind of man who would do anything for anyone.
“However, I definitely think that a culture developed in this country which said everything that is funded by government or local authorities is good and didn’t value to the same extent things that were funded by business or private individuals.
“It wasn’t always that way. Look at the Victorian era and philanthropists like Joseph Rowntree, Titus Salt and Andrew Carnegie whose wealth did so much good in Yorkshire and I do think we need to recapture some of that spirit.”
While the Bramalls don’t keep in direct contact with all the organisations which have benefited from the foundation, they have become closely involved with the Prince’s Trust.
“We never wanted to be seen as just a walking cheque book and seeing the work an organisation like that does first hand is incredibly rewarding,” says Terry.
“At Keepmoat our business was social housing and that tends to be concentrated in some of the most deprived areas of the country.
“Against that background all of us agreed that when we set up the foundation, the emphasis by and large, should be on young people. I have always felt very lucky, but I know life can change in an instant. I don’t know how I would have coped if I’d have been dealt the hand some of these young people have. Both Liz and I grew up in loving families and to see the obstacles that some of these youngsters have had to cross just to get to school or hold down a job is incredibly humbling.
“It’s the kind of satisfaction no amount of money can buy.”
The foundation is run along similar lines to a business, with the Bramalls and two other trustees meeting four times a year to catch up both with how their investment is performing and to decide which projects to fund next.
“At the moment the number of requests we receive is manageable. We look at how each fits with our objectives, but it’s not an exact science. If we feel something is deserving of support and the income is there, then they will get it. We are still learning, but setting up the foundation was exactly the right thing to do.
“I don’t think of it as our money now. It’s in the trust, it’s sacrosanct and it will keep on giving long after we are gone.”
Terry’s approach to the family’s millions earned him a CBE for services to charity in the New Year’s Honours list, but there are limits to the power of even the Bramall fortune. While Terry has invested a significant amount into Doncaster Rovers, he did so knowing that he was never likely to see a return from his money.
“ No-one goes into football to make money and there’s more business nonsense spoken than business sense. However, I do think it’s important that a town like Doncaster has a football team. The place gets a lot of bad press, most of it completely undeserved, the club, the racecourse helps to keep it on the map for the right reasons.
“If I can help in some way then I will. Money can’t buy you happiness, that is true, but it does give you the freedom and it’s what you do with that freedom that counts.”
A generous total: The growth of philanthropy
According to Coutts International, in 2010/11 there were 232 separate donations worth £1m or more either made by UK donors or given to charities based in this country. The figure is the largest ever recorded since the organisation began charting UK philanthropy in 2008.
More than half of those donations were made by 93 individuals who collectively gave £763m to good causes.
Higher education, arts and culture and international development organisations tend to receive the most large donations although environmental causes have increased in popularity.
In a bid to encourage more philanthropy in the UK, last year the Rainmaker Foundation was set up. Its aim is to inspire generosity by highlighting and supporting the work of existing philanthropists.
However, according to latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, donations to charity have fallen by 20 per cent. In 2010/11 the total donations given to charities across the UK fell from £11bn in the previous financial year to £9.3bn.