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  1. Impact Philanthropy
June 23, 2015updated 01 Feb 2016 10:14am

The Giver and the Gift: Michael Oglesby on enlivening Manchester's underfunded arts scene

By Spear's

Property developer Michael Oglesby has derived enormous satisfaction from the work of his charitable trust

The Giver

Michael Oglesby founded the Bruntwood office rental company in 1976 and the Oglesby Charitable Trust in 1992; it has since given out ’9 million, including to new Manchester arts centre HOME

You start with one and you build from there, it’s as simple as that. Initially we were buying an office block a year and refurbishing it, and then going on and doing the next one; it’s only been in the last fifteen years that that has grown. Today we own the best part of 100 offices. I remember the first office we bought then; we still own it today.

I founded Bruntwood nearly 40 years ago now. I started my life in construction and then moved into Manchester property in my early thirties. Initially we didn’t have a lot of money — we were buying cheap redundant industrial property and refurbishing it — and gradually the business grew from there. After a few years we moved into office property and we’ve been in office and commercial ever since.

We went through a very bad time in this area in the Seventies as far as industry was concerned, and it was quite clear that there was much more future in the office market. Our business shift was symbolic of a shift in British industry generally, particularly in the North of England.

It was disturbing, but the great thing was that the city and the region had realised that this change had to take place. Certainly Manchester has fared much better than most of the other cities who were much later in realising.

I set up the Oglesby Charitable Trust initially as a hedge against inheritance, because I had a concern before the children joined the business that perhaps they weren’t going to be up for it, and therefore I didn’t want to leave them a substantial business and large wealth if they couldn’t cope.

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The children were up to it, but I still decided that it was absolutely the right thing to do to put a substantial amount of the wealth that I and my wife have created into a charitable trust. It isn’t an endowment model — we put money in every year to fund the trust — although there is provision on our death for shares to transfer.

The trouble with putting money into an endowment is at the moment it earns 1, 2, 3 per cent at the most and therefore what can you do with it? Whereas we are now putting over ’2’million a year into the trust — and spending that sort of money.

What I would hope is that the business will continue when I’m not around and that my children have inherited the ethic and the values that see that the trust is important, and therefore will continue to fund it. Having said that, it will also receive substantial funds when I die anyway.

The arts in particular are dear to us because my wife and I have always had a great interest in them, but we also believe that the arts need support from the private sector. There’s been too much reliance, in my view, on public money over recent years, and it is the responsibility of the private sector to help the arts.

There are times when the arts have felt that they can just put out a begging bowl and ask for money without really looking at the overall situation, where they can in fact commercially make money. All arts organisations need to face up to the fact that they must be able to generate funds.

Our support of HOME is entirely for access, so we’ve got a programme where they employ somebody who actually goes out into the more deprived areas of the city to work with the people and encourage them to go to theatre. We said that we want HOME to charge ’1 a seat, only because that makes them have some value.

The money that we’re giving HOME is very important because we’re encouraging an audience which frankly would not go to the theatre, would see it as being something quite alien to them and would be intimidated by going through the door.

The idea of (almost) giving away tickets and encouraging them to go and experience theatre and art is a very good way of expanding your audience, of broadening the minds of a lot of people.

I think philanthropy is hugely rewarding and it gives me great pleasure to be able to do it. I’m surprised that more people who’ve reached my stage in life don’t actually do it, because they would find it much more rewarding than knocking a little ball around a golf course or drinking gin on the back of a yacht in the Mediterranean.

The Gift

Georgina Amica-Carpenter took free filmmaking courses at the Cornerhouse arts centre in Manchester ten years ago and has stayed involved since. This year, Cornerhouse merged into HOME

I’m 25, and I became involved with Cornerhouse Projects when I was fourteen; it was suggested to me by a teacher who knew that I was interested in film. You got the opportunity to make films, or to review them with the critics.

There were also things like film camp, where you went away for a week with other people your age to make a short film. You were given a project leader who was from the industry, and we brought in some objects that we thought would be interesting, and based on those you had to decide what you wanted to make your short film about. You got quite a lot of free rein, which was different from school.

We were staying in the Lakes for the camp once, and it was quite quiet. We were in a youth hostel that had a lot of winding staircases, so we decided to do a horror film based on that. They showed us clips of different films and how they use mood and framing and lighting to create a ‘horror’ atmosphere, so you’d learn the theory. Then you’d get to write the story and they’d bring in actors and you’d do the directing, so they would teach you practically about how to use the equipment, how to frame, and things like the rule of thirds and looking space.

Based on the projects that I did there, which provided me with a showreel, I got on to the BA honours course for television production at Bournemouth University.

At university, I most enjoyed making documentaries, especially one that was about HIV awareness in the UK. If you learn about HIV on the news, the focus is often about people abroad struggling to get access to medicine, but there are people in the UK who live with HIV every day and they have access to medicine which allows them to lead a regular life. However, the stigma associated with HIV causes people to be afraid, creating a prejudice that often doesn’t exist with other medical conditions.

So, part of the documentary was about the technicalities of the disease — a lot of people don’t even understand how you would get it or what it is, they would just know that they were afraid of it. There was a section explaining what HIV is and how it spreads, that you aren’t going to catch it from a kiss, and catching the virus doesn’t mean you are going to die; it’s clearing up that stigma. And then we spoke with people who live with HIV in the South of England. You can watch it on YouTube.

For two years after I left university in 2011, I was doing quite a lot of part-time jobs that also included working at Cornerhouse as a project assistant. You’d have some day-sessions where young people would learn about, say, editing, and a teacher, who’s usually an industry person, would come in and show them how the equipment and software worked, and show some clips from famous films about how you use editing to create this effect or that effect. I would help them use the equipment or software and egg them along.
When I was at college and school, going to Cornerhouse to do projects was my favourite thing in the world; that was my main hobby. So going back, it’s fun to be around people who are like you but younger, so you can tell them extra knowledge about the things that you’ve done.

Now I’m a marketing associate at a software company, where I have been involved in video projects for our rebranding. Ultimately I’d like to make a TV series. It would be about the two years following my graduation when I was doing shift work, about how working in a job you don’t enjoy can sometimes be the best learning experience.

I wouldn’t have been able to go to these projects if they hadn’t been free. That’s why, now that I’m working, I’ve decided to donate to HOME Young Creatives so that they can carry on facilitating all those free courses for young people. People have loads of creative talent inside them, but they’re limited by the fact that they can’t afford a piece of thousand-pound equipment when they’re fifteen.

If you limit people based on the fact that they’ve come from a low-income background, if it means that they can’t go on to create a brilliant film or write a brilliant script or create a brilliant art installation because you didn’t have enough money to buy the paint, I think that’s an awful thing.

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