WEALTH OF OPPORTUNITY
What do you do when you sell your business for £783m? If you’re the Bramalls you give a chunk of it away. One of Yorkshire’s wealthiest families reveals all about the art of philanthropy.
S itting in her York flat, Rebecca Bletcher appears much like any mum of three daughters who are growing up fast. Earlier she and her husband Tim attended the leavers service at the city’s St Peter’s School. Their eldest has just completed her A-levels and with preparations for that night’s prom underway Rebecca has also just finished fielding a flurry of calls about a hair appointment which appears not to have been booked.
It’s the kind of scene familiar to parents of teenage children and comforting to know that even when you are part of one of Yorkshire’s wealthiest families there are still mini-crises which need averting.
Rebecca is the daughter of Terry and Liz Bramall who back in 2007 walked away with £500m when they sold the family construction company Keepmoat for £783m. It was an eye-watering amount of money, but given where the Bramalls had started out they were never going to be the kind to blow it all on a cliché of fast cars and slow horses.
“When I was young we lived in a South Yorkshire mining community,” says Rebecca. “It was the 1980s, during the strike and my sister, Suzannah, and I went to school with kids whose mums and dads were on the picket line.
“Our family wasn’t directly affected, but you couldn’t live somewhere like that and not feel that as a community there was a responsibility to support each other.”
It’s why when the sale of Keepmoat, which Terry ran with Dick Watson and David Blunt, went through the Bramalls, who had by then moved to Harrogate, immediately launched their own charitable foundation with an £100m endowment.
“I remember Dad coming in one day and saying, right, ‘We are going to start a foundation’. Looking back, it was a continuation of the work Keepmoat was already doing. As a company we specialised in social housing in deprived areas of the country and it was never about just bricks and mortar it was always about building communities.”
Rebecca, who sits on the Bramall Foundation board, says the family decided quite early on that their focus would be on Yorkshire and projects they felt could change the lives of young people. That was why they wrote one of their first ever cheques to First Floor, the youth theatre arm of what was then the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
“It really felt like they had created a safe space, somewhere positive young people could go,” says Rebecca. “When we spoke to the kids a lot of them said that until they found First Floor they had felt isolated and like they didn’t fit in. Projects like that do have a ripple effect. They grow up in a much better place and when they have their own children they will start from a stronger position in life.”
Now rebranded the Leeds Playhouse and currently undergoing a major redevelopment, the family’s support of the theatre has continued over the last decade and when it reopens next year it will boast a new studio space known as the Bramall Rock Void.
“The arts are hugely important to us as a family and as a foundation because we see the difference they make to people’s lives,” adds Rebecca. “We don’t want anyone to become dependent on the foundation and we put a lot of emphasis on financial sustainability. However, while we don’t want to be seen as a walking cheque book it has been lovely to establish some long-term relationships with organisations like the Playhouse.”
Over the years, the foundation has also supported the likes of Northern Ballet, the Leeds International Piano Competition and the Prince’s Trust and while in the early days they went about their business anonymously the Bramalls are now an increasingly visible face of Yorkshire philanthropy.
“It felt a bit showy and a not very British thing to do,” says Rebecca. “However, over the years we have learnt that by making the foundation’s work more public it actually encourages more donations.”
Just as they have always done the Bramall Foundation board meets four times a year to review its list of current recipients and look at the 50 or so new applications for funding. Away from the foundation, the Bramalls also support Horizon Life Training in Harrogate, which offers former addicts a safe place to rebuild their lives, and the Bletchers separately donate to charities in Uganda.
“We have a nice life and of course money takes a lot of worries away, but it doesn’t take away all of them,” says Rebecca. “As for our girls of course we take them on nice holidays and they have a privileged life.
“It would seem odd to deprive them of things just in case they end up spoilt. However, we have always tried to show them that it’s not like that for everyone and teach them that if you do have wealth and time to spare you do have a responsibility to help others.”
The Bramalls story began in South Yorkshire and with Terry and his two other Keepmoat directors having invested in Doncaster Rovers the family’s links there remain strong.
“No one gets involved in football to make money,” laughs Rebecca. “Sadly Dick died last year, but it was a really lovely way for the three of them to continue working together and sometimes I wonder how mum and dad manage to fit everything in.
“They could have slipped into retirement, but they still work incredibly hard. Their diaries are always packed with invites to events, so much so I now consider them northern royalty.”
Given the number of people they’ve helped over the years, she’s probably not the only one.