Fashion and Textiles Children’s Trust chair Meg Lustman, trustee David Shepherd and the charity’s director Anna Pangbourne tell Drapers why they want businesses in the fashion and textiles sector to help promote its services to their employees.
Drapers’ Eric Musgrave has been a trustee of Fashion & Textile Children’s Trust for more than a year. He knows from personal experience the benefits of this long-established, but surprisingly little-known, trade charity. “Through a family connection I knew a young lad, Tom. His parents split up before he was born and his father lived abroad, so he had no male influence in his life. His mum got cancer soon after he was born and died a couple of years later, leaving him to live with his grandma, who was in her 70s.
“The situation wasn’t ideal and made worse when his grandma died in front of him on Christmas Eve 2008. This left his mother’s sister as his only adult relation in the UK. A single mother herself, she was not in a position to look after a 13-year-old with behavioural problems and felt he would benefit from going to boarding school, and I agreed.
“As the grandma had worked in department stores for 30-plus years, I suggested the aunt contact FTCT. Within weeks, a grant was arranged, enabling Tom to go to a state boarding school. He stayed there for the best part of three years, largely funded by FTCT. The entire experience gave him much-needed stability, structure, discipline and male influence. It drastically transformed his behaviour, attitude and academic achievement. When FTCT asked me to become a trustee, it was very easy for me to say yes.”
The trust has worked for children of the industry since 1853. Charles Dickens was a chairman of appeal in the mid-1850s. For many years, the charity was known as the Purley Children’s Trust but it rebranded to Fashion & Textile Children’s Trust a few years ago. Its biggest challenge today is to raise its profile so that it can assist even more children of those working, or who have worked during the past nine years, in any aspect of the industry.
Its reach goes way beyond retail staff. Recipients of its grants could be in distribution centres, manufacturing, on the shop floor or in the head office.
It embraces people working in independent stores, bridalwear, swimwear, lingerie, soft furnishings, carpet stores and supermarkets that sell clothing. The charity’s grants are free and there is no cost to the applicant or the applicant’s employer. Once cases have been validated, the vast majority are approved.
Headed up by director Anna Pangbourne, the charity has a board of 10 trustees chaired by womenswear chain Hobbs’ chief executive Meg Lustman, who took over the reins last year from former Adams boss David Carter-Johnson.
Lustman, Pangbourne and fellow trustee and Arcadia chief operating officer for trading David Shepherd are keen to explain how the trust – currently transitioning to a CIO (charitable incorporated organisation) – is progressing. This change of status, they say, will provide a better framework for future development.
Readying the trust for today’s multichannel world was the first challenge, says Shepherd, who has worked with FTCT for around seven years.
“We have invested quite heavily in building the website [Ftct.org.uk],” he says.
Its upcoming relaunch, slated for this winter, will give it a fresher, more modern design. “We are trying to bring it into the modern age. We have just approved a big investment in some back-office computers.” The trust is also increasingly using social media to get its message out there.
“It was run by Graham Sullivan for around 30 years [until Pangbourne took over in 2009]. He did it from home and did a fantastic job, but it was much smaller and involved more networking among other charities, whereas now it is much more about people approaching us directly.” Pangbourne adds FTCT still works closely with other charities, taking relevant referrals and referring on those that it cannot help.
Shepherd adds that whereas the entire board of trustees had previously been retired individuals, now they are all active within the industry, like Musgrave (see box, previous page), and are therefore better placed to advance its cause.
The trustees officially meet four times a year, although Shepherd says in practice it is more like once a month and they actively promote the charity. Shepherd and Lustman were two of the trustees that took part in a charity Santa fun run in December in Victoria Park, which raised £8,000. Another FTCT team, including Musgrave and four Drapers colleagues, took part in a superheroes run in May, raising £17,000.
“Life can be really tough, so it is just helping the children of families in desperate need,” says Shepherd. “It could be families experiencing domestic abuse, a single parent family, educational needs or where someone has died and left their family with no support network. It can be simple things like buying them a washing machine or school uniforms.”
Lustman adds: “It is just recognising that when your child is in need and you are not able to help we can provide a service. Anna’s team is totally focused on making sure families in need receive the money.”
Once a claim has been validated by the team at FTCT, it then takes the case committee of trustees just 14 days, often less, to award grants. “We will always make sure if we send out an application form and don’t hear anything back we give them a call to say ‘How are you doing?’ and ‘Do you need any help with the form?’ We never send out an application form unless we think it is a case we can potentially support,” says Pangbourne.
By the end of June, the FTCT will have given away £340,000 in grants this financial year. Fundraising is going well, says Pangbourne, who cites generous donations from John Lewis and Mothercare.
The service is confidential. Applicants can apply directly without employers or former employers having to know. “Parents call and say, with the greatest respect, that their line manager is the last person they would go to because they don’t want to divulge personal problems at work,” says Pangbourne.
However, industry awareness is key. FTCT and its trustees are working hard to make sure posters advertising the charity are found in staff rooms, along with practical steps such as leaflets in payslips, while Pangbourne regularly speaks at conferences and FTCT exhibits at trade shows.
Lustman says: “That is our biggest request of companies. When they hear we want to see them they think we are going to ask for money and we are not. We want to raise awareness, so we can get through to their employees on a consistent basis.”
Pangbourne says it is important people know they are calling a small, friendly team – not a call centre. “Every email or call counts and we will respond. It is a scary thing picking up a phone and calling a charity. A lot of parents say ‘I never thought I’d have to call a charity’. So the first thing we do is calm them and give them confidence and trust in who they are speaking to, then gradually build it up from there.”
Musgrave adds: “Our grant applications are predominantly from parents and carers who work or have worked in retail, but as a charity we are very, very keen to spread the word to all the others sections of the industry, from textile and clothing manufacturing to distribution to etailing and so on. We should be receiving far more applications than we do. Our predecessors were canny operators and we have a lot of money to distribute to deserving children, whether they have special needs to help with or special talents to nurture. We are fully aware that in many cases even a small grant from FTCT can make a massive difference to a family’s welfare and happiness.”
So, the raison d’être for the charity is clear, but what is the one message they want the industry to know? Lustman replies: “We want to talk to opinion formers and people around the industry to understand more about how we can be relevant to them and how we can be more aligned with what they are doing. That is what we will be focusing on this year.”
To find out more about FTCT visit Ftct.org.uk. You can support the trust by informing your HR department, putting up posters in your staff room, posting on your intranet or social media and in staff newsletters.
Helping families like these
In 2013-14, 22% of the families FTCT supported had a child with special needs, 16% had a child with a disability, and 39% were suffering general financial hardship. In some cases a parent had to quit their job to care for a child full-time.
When Charlie was diagnosed with hearing loss, his parents Nicola and Darren were devastated. They contacted Auditory Verbal UK, a charity that teaches deaf children to listen and speak, but they couldn’t afford the therapy as they had a new baby on the way. Their case was referred to FTCT because Nicola worked for Tesco and is a clothing manager for the supermarket’s fashion brand F&F:
“It was difficult approaching FTCT at first, as we’ve always paid our own way, but sometimes life presents you with situations that you never thought you would have to deal with,” says Nicola.
FTCT agreed to pay for the first year of Charlie’s therapy and he is now enrolled on the programme.
Danny’s mother Melina first spoke to FTCT at womenswear show Pure London. Melina had graduated with a degree in textiles and launched her own womenswear label. Her husband works as a care worker and they were struggling to make ends meet.
Danny, aged three, needed furniture and clothing, which the family couldn’t afford to buy. His mother also wanted to enrol him in a local dance class to help him socialise with other children. “Danny was so happy when he got his furniture and clothing, and we surprised him with dance classes. They have made a great difference and given him confidence. To any other parent out there, don’t think twice about contacting the FTCT.”
Kodee and Colby
Kodee and Colby, who are 15 and 14 and live with their mother Rachel, are both profoundly deaf due to a recessive genetic disorder called Pendred syndrome . Rachel is a single parent who needed support and, having worked for Monsoon, Coast and Mint Velvet, she was eligible for FTCT funding.
The trust was able to buy a bed and a desk for Colby and clothing and shoes for Kodee. “As a single parent I was struggling to afford big items the children needed,” says Rachel. “I was nervous approaching FTCT but I felt it was worth trying. It has been a real blessing.”
FTCT’s trustees Supporting chairman Meg Lustman are Arcadia chief operating officer for trading David Shepherd; Drapers editorial director Eric Musgrave; Marks & Spencer head of presentation Ryan Becker; former Hobbs HR director and now director at consultancy ActHR Amit Chowdhury; trading director at Beales Anne Horton; SVS Executive Search director Sue Shipley; TM Lewin chief financial officer Mike Trotman; managing director of fashion and retail recruitment firm CVUK Vanessa Green; and Karen Millen chief financial officer Andrew Ware.