Philanthropy’s response to London’s Grenfell blaze


Alex Le Vey


London is one of, if not ‘the’, leading global cities. It is a financial and cultural powerhouse. It is a destination that people love to visit. Over 300 different languages are spoken in London and you can eat pretty much any cuisine you like, from Argentinian to Vietnamese and everything in between. London has it all. Yet London isn’t just somewhere to visit. It is home to 9 million people. And the fortunes of Londoners vary as much as the languages spoken or cuisines that can be enjoyed.

At The London Community Foundation (LCF) we see this acutely. Alongside great wealth exists significant disadvantage. Throughout our 20 year history we have stood shoulder to shoulder with communities across London.

In partnership with our donors we have invested £55M into over 10,000 bottom-up, grassroots initiatives tackling poverty and disadvantage. We exist to shine a light on the key issues faced, and to support the best ideas to grow.

We’re here to strengthen and nurture the network of grassroots, community-based organisations making progress on deep-rooted issues that can’t be solved elsewhere.

There are 1500 community foundations around the world and 45 in the UK. Many people do not hear about our work on a regular basis but we are often at the frontline of tackling poverty and disadvantage.

Occasionally community foundations have to rise to the challenge of emergency relief, with recent examples being the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, Michigan responding to the lead water crisis and closer to home the Cumbria Community Foundation in response to the floods in 2015. Community foundations have the ability and a responsibility to help.

I, like many people in London, the UK and around the world awoke on 14th June to the news of the Grenfell Tower fire.

On that morning the scale of the disaster was still unknown, but it was clear that the number of fatalities and casualties was tragically high, and increasing.

The fire and the events that have followed it have been incredibly disheartening, as the loss of life, life changing injuries and damage to the community becomes ever more apparent.

Divisions in London are real and a lot has been written of the sharp focus that the Grenfell fire disaster has exposed.

While many reports have made pertinent and accurate points, I would instead like to shine a light on something that has not received very much attention to date: London’s philanthropic response.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, together with our partners The London Evening Standard we launched an appeal to raise funds for those affected by the disaster.

In three weeks we together raised in excess of £6M. In total, over £18M has been raised. What we experienced was a mass outpouring of public support, individuals and businesses reaching out to offer their help.

Of the funds we raised there has been a pretty even split between businesses and ordinary Londoners, with £3M coming from just over 60,000 with an average gift size of around £50. The London Evening Standard and LCF issued a call and London responded.

The implications of the disaster have been (and rightfully are still being) scrutinised. Many people have lost their lives or had their lives changed forever.

A disaster like this should never be allowed to happen again. Ensuring questions are answered and changes are made must be the main focus of everyone’s attention.

Yet, I think it is important to highlight that in a desperate time of need ordinary Londoners as well as the businesses that operate from our great city answered our call and wanted to help. London came together to help those in need in a time in which we are told we are more divided than ever before.

Diversity is important. It is and should be celebrated, but what unites us is even more important. Through the remarkable philanthropic response London came together to show that we care about our neighbours and stand united. For that, I am proud to be a Londoner.

Alex Le Vey is Director of Development at The London Community Foundation.

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