Faith inspires Norfolk Foundation ex-chair Henry
Norfolk Community Foundation ex-chairman, Henry Cator (OBE), is inspired by his Christian faith and says that giving unconditionally is at the heart of the Foundation’s work. Sandie Shirley reports.
The Norfolk Community Foundation works alongside more than 100 charities and voluntary groups bringing vital finance and resources to help transform the county’s communities.
From little acorns mighty oaks do grow and that is certainly the story of the Foundation. More than a decade ago, it was just an idea to replicate a successful venture in Cornwall. But with a small band of earnest men, including former Bishop of Norwich the Rt Rev Graham James and the Lord Lieutenant Sir Richard Jewson, the ground was ploughed, seeds were sown that included a hefty endowment and today there is a harvest.
Henry Cator took on the challenge of chairman five years ago after his two predecessors helped stake and grow the ground. He has recently been succeeded by former Chief Constable of Norfolk Simon Bailey. The independent charity harnesses both charitable and voluntary organisations with professional input to see change and renewal, helping some of the most vulnerable and challenged in the county.
Henry has lived in Norfolk all his life and now resides in the house where he was born. He is passionate about seeing the county thrive and shine. He steps down as chairman later this year after bringing a unique pioneering spirit of adventure to the appointment. It has included jumping from an aeroplane at 14,000 feet for a sponsored charity skydive with Bishop Graham, and their spouses. That daring feat raised £32,000 for the Matthew Project in Norwich proving that the sky really is the limit!
The Foundation boosts support and financial backing with networking, coaching and advice using webinars, videos and specialist publications as it partners with diverse organisations. The work includes inspiring youngsters for the future, supporting domestic abuse victims and homeless addicts and enabling struggling families to put food on the table.
Says Henry: ”We gave away £4m of grant money over each of the last two years but it is amazing how quickly you can spend it. We are always looking for new funding on many fronts; ideally I would like to provide grants of over £6m a year.”
His role has been forged with experience, compassion and an outworking Christian faith. During his illustrious career, that includes being Deputy Lieutenant of Norfolk and the Crown appointment of High Sheriff of Norfolk, he has been instrumental in raising millions to help worthy causes over the last 25 years, including furthering the objectives of Norwich Cathedral.
Having spent time chatting to clients at the Matthew Project, he understands the sad stories of rejection and demise resulting in addiction and hard living on the streets. Sometimes reputations and professional standing have been eroded by society pressures. But the Foundation is bringing fresh hope and momentum.
“Before Christmas I was talking to one client. He lived in the city but wanted to be involved in the countryside, now he is helping with woodland maintenance and seeing the smile on his face is fantastic because it means so much,” said Henry.
The story illustrates the heartbeat of the Foundation as it works to promote health and wellbeing in Norfolk especially after the fall-out from Brexit and Covid.
It has provided support for ‘Thrust’ with a thriving Thetford venture, where a food bank at the Burrell Centre also provides a debt advice centre to help people manage their affairs. Its success has prompted a similar venture in Great Yarmouth, explains Henry, who was appointed High Steward of Great Yarmouth in 2013, vowing to give his patronage and protection to the town. The lifelong office was first established after invasion threats from the Spanish Armada in the 16th century.
“We hope to help feed over 5,000 families in Norfolk,” continues Henry. “It is ambitious but food is the most basic requirement for families in this country.”
During the pandemic when schools were closed and students were forced to work from home, the Foundation helped to provide 2,500 laptops to families. “There are a lot of poorer communities including those who lack the confidence and self-esteem to move on, so raising their aspirations is a very important part of the work as they develop their skills.
“If we can help those less fortunate then it is worthwhile. The pandemic has meant a widening gulf between those who have and those who have not. It is worrying if society ignores the suffering. But Norfolk is special as hundreds and thousands of people are prepared to volunteer – it is the mortar that holds the fabric of our community together as action speaks louder than words.”
Giving unconditionally is at the heart of the Foundation emphasises Henry who was a churchgoer with his father as a child and who attended daily chapel at school and consequently worship has become a part of his life as a Christian. Before leaving for boarding school his father gave him a prayer book, inside were the words of the Ignatius of Loyola prayer – a prayer that has had a profound effect on his life:
“Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labour and not to ask for reward, save that of knowing that I do your will.”
Reflecting further, Henry talks about the story of the ‘Good Samaritan’ that Jesus taught. “It is not so much that he stopped and picked up the man who had been robbed and beaten, but that he took him to the inn and paid the unconditional costs for his recovery. Showing unconditional love and support is often the bit that gets missed but it can come with giving our expertise and time not just money,” he said.
“When I leave the post this year, I hope my successor will give and get as much enjoyment as I have. If you enjoy what you are doing in your life there is a better chance of doing it well. My life from the role has been an exciting adventure, filled with happiness - variety has been the ‘spice of life’ but it has always been about people – it is after all “in giving that we receive”.
Pictured above is Henry Cator - retiring chair of the Norfolk Community Foundation.