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Byline: By George Hepburn

I have bought a seat in the new Northern Stage this week. It does not mean I see the show for free. But I want to show my support for a marvellous new theatre company that, on the basis of its opening show, is going to produce outstanding theatre here in Newcastle.

I greatly enjoy going to Northern Stage, Live Theatre and Tyneside Cinema. They are my stomping grounds. I ought to make a small contribution to their current refurbishment.

We have been fortunate to attract major funding in the North-East. Northern Stage alone has cost pounds 9m to refurbish but these glory days are over, whichever party is in power. Although Northern Rock Foundation has pledged a massive pounds 28m to the region this year, Government funding and European funding is falling away. In my own field of community development, we have lost the best part of pounds 50m to the voluntary sector this year. We will have to put our hands in our pockets to keep the services we need as a community and which make the North-East a special place to live.

I was invited to speak at the STRIDE Regeneration Forum in South Shields last week. The Community Foundation has provided over pounds 1m to small community groups in South Tyneside over the past four years as part of the Government's neighbourhood renewal programme. It has provided equipment for playgroups, outings for older people, resources for tenants groups and help for asylum seekers making their home here.

It is the stuff that makes the community tick and gives people a sense of belonging. Programmes like this all over the North-East came to an end in March. These groups will have to raise those funds in future through sponsorship, fundraising and other ingenious ways.

We have had it too easy. We have become accustomed to Government grants to pay our way. As I left South Tyneside Town Hall last week, I was struck by the wonderful statue of Queen Victoria in front of the building that was "erected by public subscription" in 1913. The Victorians knew they had to put their hands in their pockets to raise funds for their community. What goes around, comes around.

In a recent Guardian article, Simon Jenkins proposed that the 19th Century was the age of capital; the 20th Century the age of socialism and that the 21st Century would be the age of charity. He was commenting on Warren Buffet's breathtaking gift of pounds 29bn to fight poverty and Aids in the Third World. In this country, people like Scottish entrepreneur, Sir Tom Hunter and City hedge fund manager, Stanley Fisk are hitting the headlines for equally impressive gifts. They are making the point that there is an individual responsibility to help if you have the means to do so. You don't have to be the world's second richest man to take up the challenge. At the Community Foundation, we marked the first anniversary of Acorn Funds this week with an event at The Lawnmowers base in Gateshead. Lawnmowers are a group of people with learning disabilities who produce and perform their own plays on social issues. The Community Foundation has been proud to support them over 15 years and we wanted to show our supporters just one way in which their money is used.

An Acorn Fundholder commits a minimum of pounds 1,000 a year ( less after tax relief ( to build up their own personal fund at the Community Foundation, which all support local projects like Lawnmowers. Acorn Fundholders come from all walks of life and are not in the super rich league. One told me that her fund followed a substantial pay rise which gave her the opportunity to put something back. In my view, that is true community spirit.

George Hepburn OBE is the Chief Executive of Community Foundation. For more information on Acorn Funds visit
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Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 30, 2006
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