The Plater Trust – the journey so far

The early stages

With the closure, in 2005, of Plater College, the trustees established the Charles Plater Trust to further the original aims of the college in championing the pursuit of social justice through education. This was to be achieved by providing grants to appropriate organisations, with funds derived from the investment of the capital sum from the sale of the college.   Grants would be made annually through open competition. Three themes were identified as connecting directly to the Plater College vision:

  1. Leadership development for the laity, particularly in the area of justice and social action, to equip individual Catholics to apply Catholic social teaching and play an active part in the Church’s mission.
  2. Imaginative projects providing education for people from the most marginalised sectors of society.
  3. The intellectual endeavour of refreshing Catholic social thought within our own British context, for example through scholarship and writing or policy formation.

The trustees set up a Grant Making Body of lay educational and civil leaders to consider grant applications and make appropriate recommendations for decision by the trustees. In addition, the original trustees (the Archbishops of Westminster, Birmingham, Cardiff and Liverpool) appointed three additional, lay, trustees.

Pause for breath

After the completion of the initial round of three annual awards in 2011, the Trustees commissioned a review of progress. This review concluded that the Trust had worked extremely well in its first three years of activity; it had engaged a committed group of trustees and committee members, developed processes in grant selection and monitoring that matched the highest standards of best practice and funded effective and socially beneficial projects from ten organisations. Grants awarded totaled over £500,000. Concerns were expressed about the declining value of the Trust’s investments (which had been adversely affected by the country’s economic downturn). Trustees agreed to suspend granting activity until the 2012 calendar year in order to rebuild the Trust’s capital and to put into effect a number of organisational changes. These included the appointment of specialist investment advisers, Charles Stanley, to manage the Trust’s legacy investments and a call to pursue additional complementary funding from appropriate Catholic sources in harmony with the aims of the Trust. The review also introduced a number of other measures. Having previously relied entirely on the professional and administrative support of the Catholic Education Service, the Trust recruited its own manager in 2012 to develop its work. The CES continues to provide valuable support services. Other enhancements to the Trust’s governance included fixed term tenures for trustees and committee members and increased lay appointments. The Trust also set up its own website: www.plater.org.uk .

The Plater Trust in 2013

In late 2012, the Trust appointed three additional lay trustees and three further committee members following an open recruitment exercise. This has widened the skills base of the Trust to include financial, health service and charity sector experience. A full list of current trustees and committee members can be found here. A fresh cycle of grants was launched with invitations to bid on the theme of Leadership development for the laity, particularly in the area of justice and social action. With a more stable financial position, the trustees were able to make a further four awards (see Grants awarded 2012-13) at a celebratory event held in Archbishop’s House, Westminster in March 2013 (www.catholicnews.org.uk/plater-grants-2013 ).

The Plater Trust in 2014

The theme for grant applications for 2014 was “projects providing education for people from the most marginalised sectors of society”.  Twenty nine applications were made, many more than there were funds available to support.  However, the trustees were able to fund an unprecedented eight applications, details of which can be found on the 2013-14 Grants page. The 2014  annual awards celebration was, for the first time, held in one of the Church’s major social action projects – the Cardinal Hume Centre – on March 20th.

The Plater Trust in 2015

The 2015 theme was for research into “the specifically Catholic character of the mission and work of Catholic charities today and their links to Catholic Social Teaching”. The awards were announced at the annual Plater Trust celebration, held on 26th February at the Cardinal Hume Centre. The four recipients were: Theos think tank, Roehampton University (with Marriage Care), the Von Hügel Institute  (Cambridge University) and Durham University (with the Caritas Social Action Network). The Durham University award funds the first Plater Trust scholarship for a three year doctorate exploring the work of six CSAN charities working in the field of homelessness and social inclusion. Details can be found on the 2014-15 Grants page. Again, the annual awards celebration was held at the Cardinal Hume Centre on 26th February 2015.

Pause for an in depth review of the Trust’s grant-making 2015-2017

At their June 2015 meeting, the Trustees agreed to re-evaluate the themes for grants made by the Trust. This was to ensure that funds were being distributed to appropriate projects that both met the founding intentions of Fr Plater and also responded to the changing dynamic of need in the world, especially in the light of Pope Francis’ recent encyclicals. The Trustees agreed to defer inviting applications for grants until this review process was completed.

The review process commenced with a paper setting out a number of issues and a series of questions to facilitate discussion among members of the Trust’s Grant Making Body (GMB).  A report, setting out detailed submissions by the GMB was then considered at the subsequent Trustees meeting on 3rd December 2015. It was agreed to set up a Review Steering Group to oversee three additional initiatives :

  • An on-line survey of past recipients of grants from the Trust. This was undertaken during March and April 2016.
  • A seminar bringing together all with an interest in the Trust – including trustees, committee members, past grant recipients. This was held  on 5th May 2016.
  • The commissioning of independent research from a specialist firm on charity evaluation, to assess the effectiveness of the Trust’s grant making in meeting current needs. The NCVO’s Charities Evaluation Service were commissioned to undertake this and submitted their report to the meeting of the trustees on 30th November 2016.
  • The Review Steering Group was tasked with considering the findings from these initiatives. Their recommendations were considered and agreed by the trustees at their meeting on 8th June 2017.

The review concluded that, fundamentally, the Trust was operating very effectively. However, a number of changes were agreed, most notably:

  • Bids would be invited on all three themes every year (rather than the 3 year cycle)
  • Bidders to demonstrate how beneficiaries involved in the design & delivery of  services
  • Grant awards would need to be implemented within a two year period (rather than in a single year)
  • Wording of the three themes to be simplified
  • Research projects to be more clearly related to practical action, preferably by joint proposals with a charity engaged in social action/justice

The trustees agreed to resume the grant making process from September 2017.