2023 Alumni Award winner for Transformative Philanthropy: Kate Hobhouse and the Garfield Weston Foundation

The Garfield Weston Foundation is a family-founded, grant-making foundation which donates over £90 million annually to projects related to the arts, health, environment, education and more. One of the most respected charitable institutions in the UK, the Foundation is this year’s winner of the Alumni Award for Transformative Philanthropy in recognition of its remarkable £1 million gift towards a new digital innovation hub at the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus.

We speak to Kate Hobhouse (BA 1985), one of the Garfield Weston Foundation’s Trustees and granddaughter of founder Willard Garfield Weston, about the Foundation’s grant making philosophy and the transformative impact of philanthropic giving.  

What did you study at Bristol and why?
I was at Bristol in the 1980s and chose to study Ancient Mediterranean Studies at Bristol because I thought the subject would be fascinating and Bristol is a beautiful city. I also knew some people who went there who really enjoyed it so I thought it would be fun…and it was. I have had many great times in Bristol, including my first date with my husband! 

 After graduating, you joined Fortnum & Mason as a graduate trainee and you are now Chair of the organisation. Can you share some of your highlights of such a longstanding professional relationship?
I love Fortnum and Mason as it’s all about those we have relationships with. I’m lucky to work with very talented and passionate people, from our staff to our suppliers who are crafting the finest products across the UK. It’s a privilege to be able to showcase the best British products and it’s our relationships that makes working there so exciting. There’s always a new challenge.

One of the highlights of my career was as Confectionery Buyer – I worked ridiculously hard and thought about nothing else because I loved every minute. I’m really proud that my daughter is now doing that same job and building her knowledge and experience the same way I did.

Your grandfather Willard Garfield Weston established the Garfield Weston Foundation in 1958. Can you tell us about your grandfather and why he chose to set up the Foundation?
My grandfather was an extraordinary man with a strong sense of doing what he believed was right – when he established the Foundation, he wrote a letter to his nine children in which he said ‘Great wealth has great responsibilities. It can destroy all those who have it or, if they can wisely control it, I am sure it can bring great blessings in its distribution’.

He put 80% of the family business into trust for the benefit of this country and that model endures today. Since then, the Foundation has given over £1.4 billion to charities across the UK which, I think, shows how family foundations and businesses can be a tremendous force for good. This year, as last year, we are aiming to give away around £90 million.

The Garfield Weston Foundation supports projects and organisations of all kinds to help people most in need. Can you describe how the foundation decides who to support and what some of your focus areas are?
My family aims to support talented people with a high-quality approach to meeting need in our society which means we have quite a broad remit. For us, it’s about backing excellence and trusting those who are experts in their field to do their best work.  While we may give good advice from time to time, it’s not about us telling people what to do as we want to support remarkable people to make a difference by using their knowledge and skills in the most effective way.

The Garfield Weston Foundation is a family-founded, family-run foundation whose Trustees are all descendants of the family. What significance does this have to the work you do?
It’s an important responsibility and we all work hard at it. We are building for the long term and the fact we’ve been doing that for decades is testament to why family businesses are a good thing for this country. So many of our suppliers at Fortnum & Mason are also family businesses so it’s a pleasure to share that and support each other.

The thing about philanthropy in our family is that it keeps us together – it gives us a strong reason to get together regularly and debate important issues. The foundation enables our family to share a common goal and meet remarkable people but it’s also about those we support – I love visiting projects and charities as I learn so much.

Earlier this year the foundation supported the University of Bristol with a £1 million gift towards a digital innovation hub at the new Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus. Why was this such an important project for the foundation to support?
I’ve had a relationship with the University for many years. The digital innovation hub was a great example of a well-conceived regeneration project. I could see that there was a powerful partnership between the University and other partners looking to be ambitious for the local community as well as to create a high-tech facility. It showed how philanthropy and heritage can take a lead on projects to create social and economic benefits.

Can you tell us about how the foundation supports other projects in Bristol and the south-west region?
The Foundation supports projects across the country and we have lots of examples locally too. This includes the new Bristol Beacon, which we supported at an early stage and again recently. We have a long relationship with We the Curious too, which began decades ago when it was called @Bristol. The region also has great organisations with national reach and impact and we are supporting Paraorchestra and Wildscreen, to name a couple.

Great work isn’t just done by larger organisations and I am equally passionate about smaller and community-based charities – for example we have current grants with Avon Youth Club, Suicide Prevention Bristol and Avon Wildlife Trust all of which are doing important work for the area.

What does it mean to you, on behalf of the Garfield Weston Foundation, to receive the 2023 Alumni Award for Transformative Philanthropy?
It’s an honour to receive this award and accept it on behalf of my family. I’m really proud of the amazing work of the foundation and it’s a pleasure to be able to support a university that I loved and which has such a great reputation. Ultimately, for my family and me, it’s about backing excellence and we are really lucky to be able to help others take their great ideas and give them space to flourish. Supporting talented people to transform things for the better is a privilege and I don’t take it lightly.  

Each year, the University of Bristol recognises alumni who have made remarkable contributions to society through the Alumni Awards. You can see the full list of our 2023 winners on our website.

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