by Alejandro Hernandéz-Renner, Director, Fundacion Maimona, Spain
This is a short story written as an aide-memoire of the experiences gathered while participating in the CF study visit to the UK organized by the ECFI (European Community Foundation Initiative) network. It is not intended to constitute a formal or technical report, but rather a very brief personal record of those four days (5–8 September 2017).
I should begin by acknowledging my gratitude to the organizing team, especially to Julia and Boris from ECFI and Mike Scott from UKCF, as well as the host community foundations (CFs) and beneficiary organizations of these CFs, all of which treated us so well. The organization was just perfect.
I got up when it was still night time in the hotel near Madrid airport where, after a 400 km drive from our hometown, I passed the first night in order to make the flight to London. For the first time, my organization assumed the air travel expenses, which I thought was called for because it showed strong commitment to the ECFI programme on our part. Having had little sleep did not help me find the train indicated in the travel programme, and it took me almost an hour to find out that I had to leave for Oxford from Paddington station. Once I arrived in Oxford, I could not help making a selfie and send it home. My last stay in the UK had been many, maybe almost 20, years ago. I was really looking forward to walking through the town.
Discovering the charm of Brasenose College, the place where we were going to spend the night, was a wonderful surprise. To me, it felt like an amazingly “HarryPotterian” venue that was very helpful in understanding the complexity of a city where you can find both enormous wealth and marginalized neighbourhoods such as Blackbird Leys. Dinner was superb, and conversation flowed easily in this stimulating atmosphere.
Attending the RAW workshop in Blackbird Leys the next day was a very good way to get a grasp of this local complexity. The very dedicated workshop leaders spoke very clearly and were keen to answer somewhat difficult questions. I became quite fascinated with the role of the position of the project manager who was appointed by the OCF donor-advised fund to this project in which the fund invested. The place selected for lunch was also a good choice because of its relevance as a social enterprise (I bought a handcrafted pen produced by a Restore-beneficiary as a way of remembering them )The organizer’s choice to have us walk through much of the town was an excellent, pleasant, effective, cheap and environmentally friendly way of getting to know the place – and the good weather we had was an added gift.
I thought it was actually a great idea on the part of Oxfordshire Community Foundation (OCF) to have us meet their whole team and give us the opportunity to devote time to technical issues. Also, examining with them their report “Oxford Uncovered” provided a first aha moment and made me change my own approach to how to carry out impact evaluations at the Fundacion Maimona. I am really grateful to Jayne Woodley, the CEO of OCF, for these two things as well as for the chance to get to know the very interesting personality of one of their main donors at dinnertime.
After these very intensive 24 hours, I did not have an opportunity to rest, as I had to depart very early to take a coach to the London airport heading for Edinburgh. The arrival at Foundation Scotland (FS) was pleasant and the presentations were interesting, and I have to say that any of the initial (inevitable) stiffness/formality quickly dissipated in the way our questions were answered and the personal availability of the speakers afterwards. I was highly stimulated by meeting the Foundation’s three-people management in person and received my second insight through what they had to say about their organizational changes: to reorganize the fund management of our Fundación Maimona. That night I read some articles about the history of Blackbird Leys in Oxford and digested the information we had gathered the previous day.
This alone would have made the whole trip worthwhile, but we also got to meet the warm-hearted people of Fresh Start who take care of the homeless in the capital. There was a tremendous degree of transparency and kindness. That they had one of the directors of FS join us was also very helpful. Dinner was just fabulous and again offered us the opportunity to meet trustees and donors.
Our group was extremely nice, communicative and at the same time respectful of each other’s independence. Combining “old” friends and new colleagues, experienced and younger peers created a perfect mix. Wrapping up last afternoon brought up technical, but also fundamental questions in our field. I hope that we will be able to get answers to new questions in future study trips.