Sam Carlisle talks to Chair of Linden Lodge Charitable Trust, Michael Elks
Do you know why the residential unit at Linden Lodge is called Richley House? Or how the Apogee Centre got its name?
It’s all to do with the extraordinary organisation of volunteers which helps the school raise money. For over 40 years Linden Lodge Charitable Trust has been quietly and successfully fundraising to help improve pupils’ quality of life and support the school. Over this time the organisation has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds, including £33,000 this year to help the School and students’ families during the pandemic. Chair Michael Elks says: “We are here to raise money for anything that is not paid for through statutory funding from government, anything that will improve the lives of the students and support their families."
Michael, a retired lawyer, has been Chair for three years. He says: “The Trust was started by a former Vice Chair of Linden Lodge Governors, Pat Fox. At a time when governors spent a lot of time in the school, Pat realised the money coming from the Inner London Education Authority, which ran it then, wasn’t enough to fund everything the children needed. So she organised some friends to set about raising money.” Initially there were three trustees for the charity. “The first thing they bought for the school was an adding machine with a voice so that visually impaired children could use it.”
Linden Lodge sits on the edge of one of the most prosperous parts of London and the Trust connects local residents with the important work of the school. Michael says: “It tends to be friends of friends who become involved and over the years our contacts book has grown and grown. We have a ‘Friends of Linden Lodge” group whose members donate annually as an ongoing way of supporting the School’s community. “A lot of donors just give money because they see the value of the school and the needs of the children there.”
Supporters also attend the many events the Trust has hosted. “We have music evenings, bridge afternoons and golf days, Pat used to put on a night at Wimbledon Greyhound Track every year. Once a year we used to have a drinks evening in the beautiful grounds of the school. We did this again last year to show our supporters the new Isobel Centre to which so many had contributed. We have been the nominated charity for a school, a church and other local groups. One of our most high profile events is our “Parkside in Bloom” Open Gardens Day which proves really popular with the public and raises around £8,000 annually. We were planning a concert by pianist and former Linden Lodge pupil Derek Paravicini but that had to be cancelled when the Covid-19 restrictions were brought in.”
The pandemic has hit Linden Lodge families hard, with a lot of support at home initially withdrawn. The Trust has been there to help. Michael says: “When we started cancelling events we realised we would have to help in other ways so we launched an emergency appeal for Covid-related funding. People were incredibly generous. We gave Amazon vouchers to the school for parents to spend on their children and supermarket vouchers for families who were struggling. We would like to see that relationship with families continue while the pandemic is still affecting how people live. The school will need things but families will need things too.”
The Amazon vouchers helped pay for anything from paddling pools to keep children cool in the heat of the first lockdown to iPads and art supplies for home schooling and even laminators, so that parents could print and cover their home-made communication symbols while home schooling.
Michael explains the process of deciding what to fund is very collaborative.
“We have monthly meetings at the moment because of Covid. Usually we meet quarterly with the head teacher Deborah Rix. We look at the fundraising and then consider how we spend money. We are guided by the school, as we don’t have the expertise to decide on spending priorities. Our process involves the school coming up with proposals. Sometimes substantial expenditure is involved (for example work on buildings and facilities) and the Trustees work hard to raise funds specifically for these items. We can also fund quite small things for example if a teacher wants £200 to take a group of children to the theatre, as long as the school approves the idea, we will pay for that trip.”
Over the years pupils have benefitted enormously from the work of the Trust and the generosity of donors. “We paid for the hydrotherapy pool in full. We contributed to the Harris Centre and to Richley House (which was named after a Chair of the Governors whose wife was a trustee), the Mendoza Library was named after one of our trustees. Another of our supporters ran the Apogee printer company. He donated a lot of the money for the building of the school hall, hence the name.
“The Isobel Family Centre funding came through us, lots of it in the form of grants. We worked with a fundraiser the school employed for the project.”
The Trust also bought one of the school’s minibuses. It provided two, one a donation from a friend, one was bought. Last year it provided the first 3D printer at Linden Lodge.
Michael says: “In 2019 we paid for 400 hours of music lessons, 36 horse riding sessions, dance workshops, and a camping trip for leavers. In the last few weeks we have funded the upgrade of the sensory room in the Jasmine Centre.”
The Trust is clearly crucial to the ability of the School to provide more than just a basic education for children. Michael hopes the Trust can widen its support base in the future. He says: “We tend to focus on donors in Wimbledon but the school is actually in Wandsworth and has children coming from a much wider area. It would be good to be able to tell more people about our work and about the children’s needs in order to increase the number of donations we receive. I am surprised how many people living locally do not know about this leading school on their doorstep.
“For now we have money set aside to upgrade the music room and the library and we want to keep our role of helping families more directly while we are in or threatened with lockdowns.”
Meanwhile Pat Fox, who started the Linden Lodge Charitable Trust is now in her early 90s but still contributing. Michael says: “Pat has recently raised money for past pupils. It is remarkable that her vision all those years ago is still so influential today and continues to benefit the school ”