Jeff Hayes was the chair of Trust for London from 2013-23, following a 40-year career in the City. He stepped down in March 2023, handing over to Dr Omar Khan. Here, Jeff reflects on his time as our chair and what drew him to philanthropy.
Why did you initially decide to become a trustee at Trust for London?
It really was lived experience that drove me to this role as chair. As a boy, living in a council house with my parents, we knew poverty. Given that Trust for London was helping to alleviate this, it ticked a huge number of boxes for me. It wasn’t a difficult thing to take it on. It was something I really wanted to do, so that I could use that lived experience to help and support as we move forward.
I remember one day when I was about eight years of age, there was a knock at the door and my mother said: “Don't answer the door. Hide behind the settee!” And I thought, “What the hell's going on here?” It transpired that it was the rent man who used to call, and she didn't have the rent money. She couldn't pay the rent.
That's had a profound effect upon me. I think anybody who's had any lived experience – be it in poverty or anything else - is highly valuable because you've been there, you understand it, and therefore you contribute to the debate.
What have you felt proudest of in your time as chair?
So much has happened over the last 13 years! I think if I had to say one thing, it would be that the endowment has grown to a scale where we've been able to put more money to the coalface.
But having said that, there are other projects that we’ve been involved in. From the Racial Justice Fund more recently, to working on female genital mutilation in my early days, to the London Living Wage. These are all crucial projects which have really helped to tackle poverty and inequality.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your 13 years with Trust for London?
I think what's really changed is the demand on us as a funder. In terms of grant applications, projects, research, the demand has grown exponentially. The difficulty has always been: how do you manage that growth and not disappoint everyone? We've had to be very careful and very clear about what we will fund and how we will fund that.
There have been a number of changes. But I think at the core our true aim remains there in terms of supporting and trying to alleviate poverty and inequality. That hasn't been lost.
What were the biggest surprises you found moving from the City to the third sector?
I think the biggest surprise was just how committed those people who work within the charities on the frontline are.
A lot is done on a voluntary basis and it surprised me just how committed those individuals were. Bear in mind I came from the City where the affluence is very high. Some of the money that we talk about in terms of grants is petty cash to some of the City firms. What these organisations are doing with relatively small amounts of money is quite astounding, and to be candid I think they could teach the City a thing or two, in terms of managing expectations.
What advice would you have for somebody looking to make a similar move, from the private sector to the charity sector?
I would strongly support that they do. Everybody has some experience, be it from work, from the life that they've endured, and it is extremely, extraordinarily rewarding to be involved with a charity and see the impact, particularly a foundation like the Trust, can have on people's lives. I wouldn't hesitate - just get involved. But make sure the objective of the underlying charity is something that really fits with you.
Any final reflections?
It's an extraordinary organisation, with an extraordinary staff who are dedicated, committed and really believe in the underlying objective of the work.
The way in which the organisation has developed and now collaborates with other foundations in terms of getting a bigger bang for your buck, in terms of the work it's doing, has really been transformational. Not just to poverty and inequality in London, but to the people who've worked within it.
It's been great. I've really enjoyed it. 13 years has just flown by and it's time to move on. I wish Omar and the rest of the board and the staff every success going forward, but it is time for me to move on and I will look back on my time as really enjoyable and one that I didn't anticipate when I originally retired.