Redrow founder Steve Morgan CBE on building communities in the North West and responding to the Covid-19 pandemic
PUBLISHED: 06:59 12 May 2020
Steve Morgan CBE may be known as the founder of Redrow, but now he’s dedicated to building communities in the North West with his charitable work – and, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, his foundation has pledged to donate £1 million a week to help local people
When I speak to Steve Morgan, the Cheshire-based businessman and philanthropist, we are one week into coronavirus-induced lockdown. The world feels more than a little uncertain, day-to-day routines have gone out the window and organisations across the country are already beginning to feel the strain of the pandemic. But within five minutes of my phone call with Steve, who founded Redrow and, later, the Steve Morgan Foundation, I’m convinced that everything is probably going to be okay after all. ‘The response the country has had is incredible,’ he reminds me. ‘It’s almost like a wartime spirit, and the vast majority of people are doing amazing things […] It’s heart-warming to see the way that people have responded.’
He certainly raises a very important point: amidst all the sadness and chaos that the coronavirus has already caused, we are seeing some moments of greatness, from clapping outside our homes for our NHS to the sudden influx of free online workout classes. The Steve Morgan Foundation is also at the very forefront of this greatness. It was started by Steve back in 2001, with the aim of supporting children and families, people with physical or learning disabilities, the elderly, or those who are socially disadvantaged in Cheshire, Merseyside and North Wales. The charitable foundation funds a huge range of projects, and in the 19 years since its beginnings, it has committed a staggering £300 million worth of assets. ‘It’s done some great stuff and grown dramatically over the years,’ Steve says proudly. It’s clear that the work of the foundation is incredibly close to his heart, both emotionally and geographically. ‘I was born and brought up in Liverpool, but I moved to Colwyn Bay when I was 13,’ he explains. At the age of just 21 Steve up his first construction company with a loan from his father, and he then went on to be the founder of Redrow in North Wales, which of course grew to become one of the biggest house-building companies in the UK. ‘We live in Cheshire now, and Cheshire, Merseyside and North Wales is our patch. We only give back to this area. It’s a patch where there’s an awful lot of poverty and there are disadvantaged areas in Merseyside and in parts of Cheshire like Ellesmere Port and Birkenhead. There’s also an awful lot of rural poverty in particular in North Wales,’ he explains. The Foundation, Steve hopes, will help to address this.
In March, in response to the outbreak of Covid-19, The Steve Morgan Foundation launched an emergency hardship fund designed to support charities and not-for-profit companies in their remit area. The fund pledges to donate up to £1 million a week for an initial 12 weeks, totalling £12 million, with this money going towards enabling the work of these charities to continue during this unprecedented time. ‘When all this kicked off, in the space of two or three days the offices probably had about 100 calls from different charities we support to say that they were in trouble,’ Steve says, when explaining why he decided to set up the fund. ‘A lot of these charities live on short lead times for their reserves and they could see that they were rapidly going to run out of money. And equally it was the perfect storm because at the same time they were getting extra calls from people who perhaps wouldn’t normally have needed them.’
The fund quickly proved to be in huge demand, with hundreds of applications already underway when I speak to Steve less than a week after it was announced. Within two weeks, a staggering £2.1 million had already been pledged. This seems to highlight the fact that although the world may feel like it has momentarily stopped for lots of us, the work of these charities must continue. Domestic abuse charities are, for example, needed more than ever. ‘Everybody has been told to lock down and that’s fine, but there are an awful lot of people out there who suffer from horrendous domestic abuse and there are shelters which we support that have got to be kept going,’ Steve explains. He adds that children’s charities who work to provide after school clubs and holiday clubs desperately need to be kept running, too. ‘Lots of kids live in really bad homes and you’d be amazed how many parents are drug addicts, or how many families there are where one parent is in prison. There are kids out there whose parents actually forget to feed them so they rely on school dinners,’ Steve says sadly. ‘And normally these kids come to some of our clubs and get supported in that way but now that’s very difficult, so a lot of these charities are trying to make sure these children get fed.’ The emergency hardship fund, then, will be invaluable for communities as the weeks go on.
Although for now the fund will be the focus of the Foundation’s work, Steve and his team are involved in a huge number of other projects in the local area too. For example, the Steve Morgan Foundation recently awarded £5 million to the charity Maggie’s, which will allow the building of two new centres to help people and their families who are affected by cancer. The foundation has also awarded £455,000 to Teach First to help unlock the potential of young people in Merseyside, and they’ve also worked alongside organisations such as the Chester and District Federation for the Blind and the Cheshire Down’s Syndrome Support Group, to name just a couple. To date over 1,000 grants have been awarded, there have been 5,000 beneficiaries of specialised disability equipment, over 75 ‘Smiley Buses’ have been donated and over 200,000 families have been supported – so, it’s safe to say that when Steve was awarded a CBE for Philanthropic Services in 2016, it was very well deserved.
In the weeks since it was launched, the fund has continued at full speed with its work, and we’ve also seen so many other charities and individuals across the region stepping in to do their bit. ‘There’s a definite community spirit,’ Steve concludes. ‘I just hope it continues, because I think we’re going to be in this for quite some time.’ There’s no doubt we have plenty of challenges ahead, but thanks to organisations like The Steve Morgan Foundation and individuals like Steve himself, we should be reassured that there is plenty of hope ahead too.