curiosity about the ways of the world

Royal Housing for the Poor?

Stop Press: Monday 9 Jan. No reply yet from RBS but this idea has provoked great response from young people and sympathetic support from Malcolm Chisholm MSP and Mark Lazarowicz MP so I will be posting an update as soon as possible…

The Skinny Magazine has wickedly bestowed Stand Comedy Club comedians with magic powers to make New Year resolutions for others (please read David Cameron’s and make a wish that real life could be like this).  While the spirit of good will is still in the air, I’m writing my New Year resolution for the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Dear Stephen Hester, as RBS chief executive, instead of paying out a reputed £500 million bonus to your investment bankers this year, why not put the cash into a philanthropic fund for affordable housing? Better still, do a deal with the government and other banks for matched funding to set an inspiring new direction for a gloomy and fearful nation at a time when we are short of both hope and housing.

For good examples, you need look no further than other men of money – the London-based American George Peabody , a banker, who built housing for the poor in Britain during the 19th century or the London money-lender Samuel Lewis whose 1901 legacy endowed a trust to house the poor. As we are fast recreating the social structure of Victorian Britons why not follow their philanthropic footsteps too?

I venture to suggest such a scheme, Mr Hester, at a time when RBS is once more appearing in public places as a sponsor of the arts. Your target market is cleverly chosen. With projects like the highly successful RBS Museum Lates the aim seems to be to connect with a new audience of bright young people.

Investing in creative activities for young people is good but there is no need to stop there. Investing in affordable homes for young people would be a PR master-stroke; providing security for a new generation, stimulating the economy – building houses, you may remember, is good for construction and retail industries – and transforming the image of RBS all at one go.

Your investment bankers will protest of course. They will threaten to go elsewhere (please, oh please).  But what exactly are they planning to do with their bonus money procured at our public expense?  What could they possibly buy that would make their life better and benefit the economy too?

Lewis Buildings in Islington: still good places to live after 100 years

Philanthropists often talk of the warm glow that comes from giving.  Rather sadly, there is no mention of warm glow in the very businesslike corporate social responsibility description of RBS sponsorship on your website.

Our involvement in sponsorship has previously helped us build our brand and deliver specific business objectives across the globe.

Branding and business objectives? Motives for charitable giving are always complex, as Professor Hugh Cunningham revealed in the recent BBC Radio 4 programme How New is the New Philanthropy: desire for power and philanthropy have always gone hand in hand.

What inspired George Peabody? Who can say, but Peabody Estates still provide affordable housing for both rent and sale as does the  Lewis Trust (now renamed Southern Housing Group)  Here, Stephen Hester, is your chance for the feel good experience of a lifetime.  Royal Housing for First Time Buyers!  Make it green housing and your warm glow could light up Scotland for years to come.

A philanthropist’s gift. I just happen to be rather closely connected to someone who was born in the bottom right flat of this block of Lewis Buildings in Islington.


  1. Administrator

    A brief update: just for the record I have had supportive response from both Malcolm Chisholm MSP and Mark Lazarowicz MP who both tweeted links to the blog.

    Yesterday I received confirmation from the office of Alex Neil MSP that I can expect a reply in due course. I guess he has other things on his mind right now.

    No word from Stephen Hester’s office. I don’t really expect a reply, if he read my email at all it is likely to have been despatched to the green ink file.

    However the Financial Times reports that RBS is determined to press ahead with bonus payments this year even though they are considering the sale of the investment banking arm (the one that caused all the bother).

    When my day job allows, I will post a proper update. If you are reading this, thanks for following.

  2. Administrator

    #Colin Quinn: There doesn’t have to be a funding cut. RBS investment banking cost the Treasury £40 billion in bail out costs. It should never have been in the gambling business anyway. Don’t pay the bonuses (some “stars” might leave – with any luck) and use £300m to pay a special dividend to shareholders (ie the taxpayers, so the Treasury gets its money) and invest the other £200m in homes and jobs – real things which promote real economic growth.

  3. Ross McEwan

    Fay, we at art in architecture have been trying to get something like this up and running in Granton for ages. I have a financial friend who has the perfect financial model to achieve what investors require.
    Lets meet and discuss
    Ross 0131 551 2341 or 07752612607

  4. Lucy Byatt

    Great article, Fay. I found it through Malcolm Chisholm’s tweet a few minutes ago. Now you should send it to all the Scottish papers, and FT for good measure! The more coverage the better – Scotland has used to lead the way in philanthropy (Carnegie, Coats, and many others), so the board of RBS needs to show some muscle! See my blogpost (some time ago!) on the need for a moral makeover at the top of RBS

  5. Colin Quinn

    Investment bankers pay 50% tax on 500 million. So that’s a £250 cut to the exchequer. Which areas do you suggest bear the brunt of that funding cut?

  6. Fay

    This is the email I sent to Stephen Hester.

    Dear Stephen Hester

    I am writing on behalf of many young people that I hold in high regard. Perhaps you will be pleased to hear that I have been inspired to write to you by the youthful spirit of RBS Museum Lates.

    The success of the first evening gave me an idea. While it is great to see RBS sponsoring arts events again, how much more you could do for young people if you followed the example of 19th and early 20th century philanthropists (other men of money like George Peabody and Samuel Lewis). Instead of paying out huge bonuses why not invest that money in building homes? Royal Housing has a ring about it.

    So first I wrote an open letter to you in my blog (Royal Housing for the Poor?) and to my surprise it has begun to spread through Facebook and Twitter, gaining comments and backing from hundreds of people, most of them young. Their support is touching. One young woman writes:

    “I hope you will write to RBS. As well as investing in affordable homes, maybe you could suggest that banks could invest in grants to make it easier for first time buyers to secure mortgages to buy these new properties.I know only too well how impossible it is to save enough money for a deposit on minimum wage.”

    These are the young people you are attracting to RBS Museum Lates. Many, if not most, are graduates. Some have jobs. Most are not earning enough money to save, let alone pay, for a mortgage. Now or for the foreseeable future.

    RBS, like other banks bailed out by tax payers’ money, owe a debt to the country that could be repaid by boosting the economy while bringing benefits for young people now and (like Peabody and Lewis) leaving a lasting legacy for generations to come. You and your philanthropy could do it by building homes: Royal Housing for the Young.

    Wishing you a happy (and for all our sakes) prosperous new year.

    Fay Young
    writer, blogger and mother

  7. Administrator

    This morning I sent an email direct to Stephen Hester at RBS with copies to Alex Neil, whose Scottish Government cabinet responsibilities include housing, and Malcolm Chisholm who is my MSP.

    So far no response from Mr Hester (but I only sent the email at 12 noon), an auto reply from Alex Neil (still on annual leave) but a sympathetic response almost immediately from Malcolm Chisholm. He points out that bonus payments are the responsibility of the government at Westminster but promises his support for the idea and hopes other MSPs (all parties) will do the same.

  8. Lynn

    good point well made!! I tweeted a link to it today

  9. Angus

    Brilliant, go for it!

  10. High Hopes

    Couldn’t agree more Fay. And it could be a lasting legacy: One of my friends lives in Peabody housing today and couldn’t manage to live in London otherwise. It’s a lovely flat, built to last, in a friendly, safe street.

  11. Mac the knife

    Send it to

  12. John

    This is a great idea, you must send it to Stephen Hester.

  13. Administrator

    Great to see the hits growing since Tommy posted a link on Facebook. Only Jimi Hendrix, Tesco and the Elks have had more response on my blog than RBS.

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