County Durham Community Foundation, which has given out more than £34m to good causes over 22 years, has unveiled its latest chairman.
As the proud descendant of generations of Weardale farmers, James Fenwick’s roots are planted deep in the County Durham soil.
And his passion for the county shines through in his determination to help make a difference to the lives of its people.
As the newly appointed chairman of County Durham Community Foundation (CDCF), he sees the opportunity to not just make an immediate impact but to influence longer-term aspirations.
James has been a financial supporter of the Community Foundation for the best part of 15 years, convinced of the organisation’s enormous value to the county as an independent grant-making charity.
Now, he has been chosen to succeed Mark I’Anson, who has chaired the charity since 2008, overseeing huge growth in its operations and out-performing other charitable foundations in bigger and wealthier parts of the country.
James, who takes over in October, said: “The fact is that County Durham Community Foundation punches well above its weight compared to others around the country. That’s because it has been brilliantly run and my job really is to maintain those standards.”
Born in Durham’s Dryburn Hospital, James studied theology at Exeter University before embarking on a career as an investment banker.
His family has farmed just north of Wolsingham for generations and he continues to live there with his wife, Kate, and their three children. He works full-time for Rothschild & Co, one of the world’s largest independent advisory groups.
As if that’s not enough, there are other roles to squeeze in. In 2015/16, James was High Sheriff of County Durham and also serves as a Trustee of Lord Crewe’s Charity, which was established in the 17th century under the terms of the will of Nathaniel Lord Crewe, the Bishop of Durham, “to distribute the income from his estates in the North East of England for the benefit of necessitous clergy in the ancient Diocese of Durham”.
It is clearly a hectic but satisfying life. “I get up very early and go to bed very late,” James admits.
He will, however, have solid support in his new role as CDCF chairman because he will be working closely with vice chairman Paul Chandler. Paul is formerly chief executive of Traidcraft and his current roles include being a board member of the Co-operative Group and chair of Durham Cathedral Council.
James will concentrate on the Community Foundation’s strategy and vision, while Paul will focus on operational matters. “Paul has invaluable experience and it will be very much a partnership between us,” said James.
Chief executive Barbara Gubbins, who has just been awarded the CBE for her work in the voluntary sector, said: “Mark I’Anson will be an extremely difficult act to follow but, in James and Paul, we have vast experience and their combined skills will make a very strong team. I’m sure we will be in very safe hands.”
The change comes at a time when more good causes are benefiting from the Community Foundation than ever before. More than £34m has been handed out since it was formed in 1995, and it now manages more than 200 charitable funds, as well as having built up a long-term endowment fund of over £13m.
“It is a wonderful achievement and I am extremely honoured and proud to be asked to become chair of an organisation which makes such a difference,” said James.
That said, he identifies a lack of aspiration as the biggest problem facing County Durham, and the wider North-East, so one of his priorities as chair of the charity will be to try to tackle that fundamental issue.
“Durham is a magnificent county in so many ways but we have to lift people’s aspirations, widen their horizons, and help them see what’s possible.
“County Durham Community Foundation must go on raising money and matching donors to the causes that matter to them, but it is about more than making an immediate impact. It is also about supporting individuals, groups and projects that can make a long-term difference and help the people of Durham to realise their potential.”
James Fenwick is clearly relishing the challenge that lies ahead in his beloved home county.