‘How a boy called George turned me into a philanthropist’ – Steve Morgan

Steve Morgan fought back tears as he recalled how a young cancer patient called George inspired him to become a philanthropist.

The founder of the Steve Morgan Foundation spoke about his motivation during an interview for Barclays Bank’s ‘Philanthropy Podcasts’ series with Emma Turner, Director of Barclays Private Bank Philanthropy Service 

https://privatebank.barclays.com/news-and-insights/podcasts/steve-morgan-podcast/

The founder of Redrow has given away millions of pounds as part of the Foundation’s Covid-19 Emergency Fund but said the origins of his philanthropy go back a lot further than that.

He explained: “I always felt that once I was successful, if you like, and had surplus funds, that I should try and do my bit to help people like the ones I grew up with in the areas I grew up in.”

However, as he stepped down from Redrow for the first time in 2000, it was chance meeting with a boy called George that changed his life.

He told Philanthropy Podcasts: “I’d sacrificed my last three years’ salary at Redrow so I didn’t take a penny in salary. I gave every everything to Alder Hey Hospital where they were building a children’s oncology unit.

“I raised a considerable amount towards that oncology unit. I went on a 365 mile walk across the Pyrenees, trying to set a Guinness World Record. We actually raised £365,000, which back in 1998 was a lot of money.

“The one trigger was a young boy called George. I have a photograph in the Foundation offices of myself with young George, who was four years old. He had lost all his hair with chemotherapy.

“On the day we were setting off a number of the children came to a Liverpool Airport to wave as off. The sister on the ward, who I’d got to know very well, pulled me to one side and said, ‘I’m not sure that George is going to be here when you get back’. Even to this day, I fill up thinking about it.

“On the second day of the walk it was driving a blizzard. It was freezing cold. We were probably 1,500m up in the Pyrenees. We started our daily walks at 6am and walked through to about 6pm or 7pm at night. It was relentless. 

“The team were saying, ‘you know, why don’t we just ease off today?’ And I just remembered George and it was George who took us through that day. It was a horrible day. When I came back, I think from that moment onwards, I always thought I’d do something special for charity.

“When I stepped out of Redrow in November 2000, within six months I set up the Foundation that set us off on our way.”

George tragically died but the entrepreneur founded the Steve Morgan Foundation in 2001, to support charities that help children and families, people with physical or learning disabilities, the elderly, or those that are socially disadvantaged in Merseyside, Cheshire and North Wales. 

He has donated assets totalling £300m in that time.

Morgan said his tough upbringing in Liverpool shaped his philosophy around helping those less fortunate than himself.

“I saw poverty with the kids I went to school with,” he said. “I had good parents and so I was always turned out reasonably well, as well as they could afford, but around me, I used to see a lot of kids who lived in abject poverty.”

The father-of-six said American financier George Peabody, who is widely regarded as the father of modern philanthropy, shaped his principles.

“One of the people whom I respected the most in the philanthropy world is George Peabody from the Peabody Trust. He did so much to house the poor people of London and his legacy lives on to this day. My background, of course, is in housing.”

Morgan said he stepped in to launch the Steve Morgan Foundation Covid-19 Emergency Fund in March 2020 after being inundated with calls from struggling charities  for help.

“It became pretty obvious within a matter of days that we were looking at a crisis here,” he said. “They were looking at the precipice. We said ‘look, we can’t let this happen, we can’t let our charities just fold after all these years’. 

“ Within days of the lockdown we announced a Covid-19 Emergency Fund, pledging up to £1m a week.”

Asked what he gets out of philanthropy he said: “I think a sense of pride that I’m in a lucky position of being able to give something back. 

“One of the highlights of the year is the Christmas party for disadvantaged and disabled children. There are around 325 children and their carers in the function room and I love being amongst the kids the whole afternoon. 

“Most have never been to a Christmas party like it, we have a Santa, a grotto and all sorts of kids’ entertainment. Every child has a slap-up meal and leaves with a present. Dozens and dozens of young kids come to me and say this is the best day of their lives. It chokes me up, to be honest. I’m just a big softie, really.

Morgan said he also loves visiting some of the charities which the Steve Morgan Foundation supports.

“I get so inspired by some of the people who give their lives over to working for others,’ he said. “And I come away and think ‘well, I do nothing compared to some people who literally seven days a week are helping others’. What I do get is a great deal of satisfaction that we help them to help others.”

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