The 250-year-old Thomas Coram Foundation for Children is
considering its future following the recent departure of its
director reports Phil Cohen
The departure of Chris Hanvey as director of the Thomas Coram
Foundation for Children after clashes over the charity’s direction
underlines the problem of modernising a charity which has its roots
in 18th century philanthropy.
Hanvey was grappling with a unique organisation which combines
well-developed child care work such as adoption, support for care
leavers and supervised access to children, with an art gallery and
museum at its elegant Brunswick Square headquarters in central
The foundation has decided to reshape Harvey’s post to make it
similar to that of a chief executive, although his position of
director and secretary specifically encompassed the two sides of
Hanvey, a former divisional director of social services in Leeds
and assistant director, NCHAction For Children, who had been in the
post nearly three years, went on leave before Christmas and has now
left after securing a settlement (News, 11 January).
According to insiders it was not an easy relationship with
Carolyn Steen, chairperson of the trustees, who replaced Dame
Gillian Wagner after previous reports of disputes over policy
direction under the latter’s tenure.
The decision to redraw the post and seek a replacement for Chris
Hanvey was ratified at a meeting of the foundation’s court attended
by about 20 trustees last week.
One of them, Adrianne Jones, former director of Birmingham
social services, said: ‘They have got some interesting and exciting
ideas about developing the campus site near the headquarters and it
will be a major task to fund raise to implement these.
‘The child care work should in no way be put at a disadvantage
in keeping the museum alive – it should benefit the child care
side,’ she added.
However, the foundation failed in a £9 million bid to the
National Lottery Charities Board. Acting director Richard Wyber,
the finance director, said the cash was for rebuilding the
Brunswick Square site to provide more accommodation and development
of services. The charity had hoped it could secure funding for the
refurbishment in one go. ‘Now we need to think again about other
sources of funding and perhaps take a more incremental approach to
it,’ Wyber said.
Thomas Coram is thought to have built up several millions of
pounds of reserves during its long history.
But the museum and art gallery, with virtually no income, demand
large annual subsidies. When Harvey joined there was a
£300,000 deficit. This turned into the black last year. During
his tenure, the foundation underwent a major reorganisation, took
on new contracts and absorbed a small charity.
Currently the foundation provides an adoption service for
children with special needs such as those with disabilities or HIV;
semi-supported houses for young care leavers in London; and the
Meeting Place, a contact centre where parents under non-custodial
orders can see their children with supervision. The nearby three
acres of land which Wyber is referring to as a new ‘campus’ houses
a Camden Council nursery school, an independent Coram nursery and
two homeless family projects.
‘Our aspiration is to develop that campus with a range of child
care services focusing on young children and working with existing
users. We want to try and provide a coherent range of services so
they all work together while updating the arts and cultural aspect
to make that artistic tradition relevant to the users today,’ Wyber
‘It’s a challenge, the charity clearly regards our child care
work as the main focus but when you have this collection which is
over 200 years old you have to consider that as well,’ he
But some sources claim the Steen regime gives less emphasis to
the social work side and Harvey’s departure revolves around his
commitment to child care.