Louise Harvey, executive director of ST JOHN’S FOUNDATION FUND tells Simon Holdsworth, managing partner at THRINGS how St John’s is tackling the attainment gap…
Simon Holdsworth: St John’s is a big presence in Bath but, for those who are not familiar with it, can you tell us what it does?
Louise Harvey: St John’s was founded in 1174, making it one of the UK’s oldest charities. Originally known as St John’s Hospital, it offered support to those in need and its almshouses were at the heart of the organisation.
The St John’s of today remains renowned for its almshouse provision but has extended its reach to include supporting disadvantaged children and people of all ages who are in crisis in Bath and the surrounding areas. We now focus on three main areas: our almshouses enable people over 65 to live full and independent lives; our large investment and property portfolio funds our charitable giving, and we continue to act as a funder, supporting charities and those who need help.
SH: What are the main priorities for St John’s today?
LH: Two years ago, we launched a ten-year strategy and created the Foundation Fund. This was a whole new way of looking at our organisation, what it did and how it could affect change.
SH: So, what is the Foundation Fund?Why was it created and what does it do?
LH: In this beautiful city of Bath, and across B&NES, there is one of the biggest attainment gaps in the country; from one end of the region to the other, the inequality in literacy levels, life expectancy, unemployment and life chances is staggering.
We launched the Foundation Fund fund to reduce this disparity and deliver the social change our city needs. Our manifesto is to build communities where children can grow into happy, healthy, and educated members of society. Our aim is to significantly reduce the educational attainment gap in B&NES by 2030.
SH: The St John's group recently launched a big project. How do you go about achieving that ambition?
LH: We have started already – despite the pandemic. We identified and brought together seven schools with the highest number of disadvantaged children in the area, who are already working with over 700 disadvantaged primary children who need support.
SH: The St John's Group recently launched another exciting project – the House of St John’s.
LH: The House of St John’s is a co-working venue powered by social change. By opening the doors of 1 Queen Square and creating a beautiful space for people to come and work – and play – we are bringing businesses, of all sizes, back into the heart of the city. And, because profits will go straight into the Foundation Fund we are enabling those businesses to be part of the change we need to make for Bath.
SH: Louise, there are some exciting and ambitious projects happening at St John’s. What are you most proud of?
LH: I’ve been at St John’s for 17 years – it’s now part of my DNA. I’m most proud of our current strategy – it was a brave move to look inwards and then take a new route. We have started the journey, but we still have a long way to go. I do feel blessed to be part of an organisation that is really changing lives. For good.
Find out more about Thrings here.
View the article in Bath Life magazine here.