Businessman Mark Barnett has become a trustee of Wiltshire Community Foundation and says he has joined the charity at an exciting time as it helps voluntary groups bounce back from the pandemic.
The former chief operating officer of The Consortium in Trowbridge, who sold the company with his wife Melanie, the firm’s chief executive, in 2012, has been working with the community foundation for seven years as a fundholder and grants panel member.
The community foundation provides funding and advice to grassroots charities and voluntary groups to help them support the most disadvantaged people in their communities, as well as giving educational opportunities to young people through individual grants.
It awarded £2.1 million in grants to groups and individuals in 2020/21 and has pledged to invest £10 million to help the people and communities of Wiltshire and Swindon thrive over the next five years.
Mark and his wife, who met while working at education products supplier The Consortium, set up the Teal Barnett Family Trust with the community foundation in 2015.
“The groups it has funded are often about supporting children with educational needs or helping disadvantaged children get out of their particular situations, that tends to be where our focus is,” he said.
“We had already set up a family trust on our own but what we struggled with was finding local good causes and particularly being able to support people with small amounts that make a difference to their live.
“That’s where the community foundation has had a strong part to play, in being able to take away the difficulty in getting your money to the right place and being confident that it will deliver the outcomes that you want for the money going in. It does that so well.”
He said he jumped at the chance to become a trustee when asked by community foundation chairman Ashley Truluck. “I’ve always felt I had more to offer and when I was approached by the chairman, who said I would be a good fit, I was delighted to say yes,” he said.
“The community foundation achieves a remarkable amount for the cost that it takes to run the organisation. I think if it didn’t exist there would be a huge hole left in charity fundraising in the county.”
Since leaving The Consortium he and Melanie founded Responsible Homes, which built eight flats in Park Street, Chippenham, in 2018.
The firm’s ethos is help people to get on to the property ladder. Tenants put a third of their rent into an ISA that they have to prove they have set up to save for deposit on their own home over three years.
So far three couples have moved into their own home and the flats have been re-let. Mark said the couple were inspired to start the venture after he volunteered at Chippenham homeless charity Doorway, where he eventually became a trustee, and Melanie worked with a housing project in Bristol.
“We can see how difficult it is for people who want to get on the property ladder to save that first deposit,” he said. “Renting is often more than the cost of a mortgage, so how on earth are people supposed to save enough money to buy their own property without a loan from their parents? And not everyone can do that so we are targeting people who don’t have those advantages.”
He said helping the community foundation meet the challenge of support Wiltshire and Swindon’s voluntary sector in the wake of the pandemic is exciting.
“There’s the need to support charities that haven’t had enough money and make sure they survive. Obviously there are also the people they support, whose need is going to be far greater than in the past because of the challenges that Covid has brought to society in general,” he said.
“There’s also a huge opportunity because I think what society has gone through over the last two years has brought an awareness that there are people in need out there and there is a huge desire among people who have more, to give more to support those people - and I think that is something that society can tap into now.”
Wiltshire Community Foundation joint chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “We are delighted to welcome Mark on to our board of trustees. He and Melanie have already made a huge contribution to our work through the fund they have set up with us and taking part in our grant panels.
“Now we are going to benefit from Mark’s experience even more and that is very exciting.”
To find out more about the community foundation’s work, go to www.wiltshirecf.org.uk