The UK Philanthropy Archive

Beth Astridge, Project Archivist at the UK Philanthropy Archive, tells us about this growing archive collection.

Tell us a little about the archive collection?

The UK Philanthropy Archive is an archive collection within the University of Kent Special Collections and Archives department. The archive was established in 2019 with a vision to develop an eminent research resource reflecting the breadth of UK philanthropy.

The UK Philanthropy Archive identifies, collects and preserves the archives and papers of UK philanthropists, philanthropic trusts and foundations, philanthropic networks, and other related material. These archives and papers form a research collection that represents the history, experiences and perspectives of philanthropists, trusts and foundations and their impact on UK society. The archives will also include some of the projects and organisations that have received funding from philanthropists, trusts and foundations, and will represent the perspective of these organisations and the impact that funding has had on them.

Collecting the papers of those who give their money or other resources to others, alongside the papers of those who received these resources, will enable a more accurate and balanced picture of philanthropy in the UK to be recorded.

Archivist Beth Astridge (left) with Dame Stephanie Spencer

Can you tell us how the archive was established?

The idea began with the donation of a small philanthropic collection to the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent, and then developed with a conversation between Dr Beth Breeze (Director of the Centre for Philanthropy) and Dame Stephanie Shirley DL. Dame Stephanie was in the process of spending down her charitable foundation – The Shirley Foundation. This conversation resulted a project to establish an archive collection, housed at the University of Kent Special Collections & Archives, which focussed on collecting archives relating to philanthropy. As well as generously supporting the establishment of the archive, Dame Stephanie also donated the papers of the Shirley Foundation as our founding collection – and the UK Philanthropy Archive was born!

What is significant about the collection?

Archives that record the activities of philanthropists and philanthropic trusts and foundations are an important record of the practice of philanthropy and charitable giving in the UK, both in the past and in the present. 

We need to preserve archives on philanthropy to enable the better understanding of a range of topics such as who gives money and resources away and what motivates them to do so; how does philanthropy impact the world around us; and what position does philanthropy hold in the funding landscape of welfare and public spending.

It would be difficult to fully understand how philanthropic individuals and organisations have influenced UK society without the evidence provided by their archives and the archives of organisations receiving financial support.

Can you give us some examples of the sort of sources researchers might find in the collection?

We are collecting the papers and archives of:

  • Individual philanthropists
  • Grant giving trusts and foundations
  • Philanthropic networks and giving circles
  • Projects supported by the philanthropists, trusts, foundations and networks found in our collections
  • Philanthropic projects, initiatives and campaigns

We are collecting oral histories of individuals from the philanthropic sector, and histories of trusts and foundations. We are also researching other philanthropic archive collections in the UK and mapping their locations as a research resource to support anyone interested in studying using philanthropy collections.  

You will find both paper and digital records, audio-visual material and photographs in our collections. Typical records might include:

  • minutes of trustee meetings
  • correspondence
  • annual reports and financial statements
  • projects and grants files
  • project outputs such as reports and publications
  • speeches, media interviews, newsletters and press articles
  • impact reporting and evaluation

We also collect more personal papers about the individual philanthropists involved, as well as information about the lives and experiences that shaped their philanthropic practice.

We have also been working on a project to collect records that reflect the reaction of the philanthropic sector to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes recording tweets that different people and organisations posted showing how they were re-framing funds, ring-fencing money for COVID-19 recovery projects, and altering existing practices to support those in need at this time.

Do you have any top tips for researchers accessing this collection?

As we are currently cataloguing the material we have, and many donations are in progress, do contact us if you are interested in hearing more about the collections. We will keep the website updated with new material and tweet about what is coming in.

We are looking forward to helping researchers engage with the archive and learn about philanthropy. Whether you are a researcher studying how philanthropy has influenced government policy, a funder looking to learn from activities and practices of other grant giving bodies, or a charity looking to understand the funding landscape more deeply – we hope to be able to support your research in the archive. Talk to us about your research topic and we will see what we can do to help.

Is there any other information you’d like to provide?

You can find more information on the UK Philanthropy Archive website.

Explore our digital map of other philanthropy collections around the UK.

If you are a philanthropist, trust or foundation, network or anyone else who works in or volunteers in the philanthropy sector, and you think you might have an archive collection of interest to us – then please get in touch to discuss your collection –

About Georgina Brewis

Professor of Social History at UCL
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