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Bill Holroyd CBE DL – Philanthropy Journey

4th November 2014 by Onside Youth Zones

Our Chairman Bill Holroyd, has been included in the Coutts Million Dollar Donors Report for 2014. Coutts are renowned for celebrating and inspiring philanthropy around the world.

From being expelled from school to having been involved in over 25 companies, Bill Holroyd has an amazing story to tell. Below we have selected a few of the most intriguing answers Bill gave in his interview with Coutts.

How did your involvement with the Bolton Lads and Girls Club develop?

When I went there for the first time, I was completely and utterly blown away.

If I say to people ‘close your eyes and draw a mental picture of a youth club’, everyone draws the same picture – leaky roof, creaky floorboards and a broken ping pong table. It’s a testament to how bad we’ve become at looking after kids in their leisure time. In fact, if I want to get people interested in what we’re doing, I have to avoid saying the words ‘youth club’ because they just go to sleep.

No young person in their right mind would want to go to rubbish premises. But there is a massive need out there. You suddenly think of these young people where you would normally see them – on the street – and think, ‘They really do not have anywhere decent to go’. You realise that nobody’s dealing with it.

Bolton was different. They’d created a world-class facility that had young people queuing out the door.

The first time I walked into this place, there were 300 young people in a fabulous building, occupied with 20 different activities from sports to creative arts – dance, art, music, drama.

Then there were options for kids who just needed somewhere to chill out or do their homework. They have 350 volunteers, and they even have a waiting list! The community loves it and the kids love it. It’s a great example of the public sector, the private sector, the volunteers and the kids all working together. Kids are like blotting paper – you give them a good environment and they soak it up. I saw how good it was and thought ‘wow, we’d better replicate this’.

It’s similar to spotting a great investment – you travel the world and you see great ideas and some great ways of doing things – and your business brain clicks in and says ‘right, this needs rolling out across the country’. So I suppose that was the moment that I got seriously into philanthropy.

I did three years as the Chairman, which was just giving time really – although of course I gave a bit of money. Then in the last year there I said ‘can I have your permission to use your intellectual property, because I think this is appropriate for every town in the country?’ What was missing was an enabling organisation. So at that time, I had some money and I put some money in, but what I gave was 80% of my time – my working life.

If you ask an entrepreneur what’s his most precious resource, it won’t be money, it will be time. I treated it like a business, got together the money from wherever I could, and we set about showing people how to replicate it. The numbers are quite scary: it’s £6m to open one of these centres and it’s £1m a year to run one. So we set up OnSide and that’s where it started.

You’ve said OnSide are an ‘enabling organisation’. What do you mean by that?

Everybody just wants someone to take care of all the ‘doing’ and make sure it’s sustainable. There’s nothing worse as a philanthropist than chucking money at something and then finding it boarded up in two years’ time – it’s deeply hurtful. So giving money and knowing there’s a management structure around it to ensure that money is properly used, and it’s results-based and sustainable, and it’s continuously improving – that helps enormously. At the end of every session our Youth Zones have a critique: What could we have done better? How can we do it better tomorrow? Are our customers happy? What can we do to improve the service?

I’ve been astounded by the response. Our donors are on a different level, they just see the way that we could change Britain – honestly, I know it sounds ridiculous, but everybody’s said everything we’ve done is ridiculous. We see no reason on earth why within the next ten years every child in the country couldn’t have somewhere safe and inspiring to go in their leisure time.

These facilities [at OnSide] are modern and fit for purpose. There are trained staff doing every activity – it’s not done on an amateurish basis.

And there’s no pressure on the kids to do anything. But the important thing is they’re having a relationship with adults who, in their main lives, are something to be avoided at all costs, usually because they’re ’authority’. They’re surprised that there are volunteers around them – people who are spending time with them because they want to – and that is transformational to the relationship.

What are the key challenges and opportunities for philanthropy in the UK?

In my opinion, we need to focus on communities.

In our Youth Zones, you get a complete reflection of all the groups in the local community, and they all get on perfectly.

But many of our communities are becoming increasingly divided and intolerant and that’s very worrying. That’s why it’s so important for the charity sector and the private sector and the public sector to be working together.

You can read the full feature on our Chairman by following this link