The launch of the fund
Birmingham City Councillor Eve Brook conceived the idea of the fund – to enable Birmingham care-leavers to go to university – in the months after being diagnosed with terminal cancer in the summer of 1997. She was inspired by the looked-after young people she met, and believed that many had capacities they hadn’t realised, but could realise if given the chance.
Following her death on 3 March 1998, the Fund was launched at a memorial celebration of her life held at the Barber Institute at the University of Birmingham in April. Alongside tributes and music, the celebration was addressed by Fund patrons Simon Callow and the Baroness Helena Kennedy QC
Shortly afterwards, the Fund gained charitable status and a Trust was set up, consisting of the Director of Social Services (the first being Richard Evans), a representative of Moseley Labour Party (Jonathan Bratt) and David Edgar, Eve’s husband. The Fund’s first secretary was Birmingham City Council aftercare worker Louise Bessant.
Our first decade: 1998-2008
In January 1999, Fund patron Simon Callow and then Lord Mayor Cllr Sue Anderson launched the four schemes for the distribution of the Fund. These were scholarships to cover fees for college courses; bursaries to meet ongoing student expenses; one-off grants for special equipment and materials; and free places on short courses to help young people discover talents that may lead them into higher education later on. Later in the decade, we instituted a scheme to provide computers for care-leavers.
Our first two awards were one-off grants for equipment and clothing to a Kosovan Albanian asylum seeker studying English at Matthew Boulton college, and an fine-art student for equipment and materials required for her course at Derby University. By our fifth anniversary, in 2005, we had made grants to 35 young people. In 2005 we began the tradition of celebrating the graduation of our beneficiaries with a dinner hosted by the Lord Mayor, Cllr John Hood. A year later, we mounted an art exhibition of the work of Charlene Clempson BA MA, our first post-graduate beneficiary, to mark her MA from St Martin’s College of Art and Design. The exhibition was opened by then Lord Mayor Cllr Mike Sharpe, and 11 of Charlene’s paintings were sold.
As we began to promote the fund and receive applications, we also instituted a series of events to attract both care-leavers and young people still in care to consider careers in the arts. For a number of years we supported young artists attending the city’s Gallery 37 “Arts Under Canvas” summer project, sponsoring trainees in jewellery, textiles, photography, music, dance, film-making and animation.
The Fund also mounted a series of Taster Workshops to introduce care-leavers to various branches of the arts, including steelpanning and music technology (led by Pato Bantan), comedy acting (led by Celia Imrie), the physical aspects of performance (led by Rachel Gartside and Pal Aron), singing (led by Black Voices), rap (led by Djan Hammett) and Caribbean dance (led by Julia Joseph-Barrett). In 2003 the workshops were retitled Saturday Samplers. The Fund also organised seven visits to the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. We began the tradition of commissioning a beneficiary to design the Fund’s Christmas card, which has continued to this day.
Later in the decade, we ran workshops of writing and art in children’s homes, led by visual artist Jim Morris and former Birmingham poet laureate Dreadlock Alien.
Initially, the fund was financed from donations made in the wake of Eve’s death. Fundraising events in the first decade included a series of annual dinners held in Eve’s memory (titled Midsummer Night’s Eve), with guest speakers including comedian Steve Nallon, politician Clare Short MP (then Secretary of State for Overseas Development), actor Richard Wilson and novelist David Lodge. Collections were held at Patron Professor Ann Davis’s inaugural lecture and during the run of Patron Simon Callow’s production of The Pajama Game at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. In 1999, the Fund was chosen as one of Cllr Ian McArdle’s charities during his year of office as Lord Mayor of Birmingham (raising £8,000 for the Fund).
In September 2000, the then Lord Mayor (Theresa Stewart) named the Aftercare Service Building Eve Brook House.
During our first decade we gave 88 individual grants to 73 young people, studying everything from fashion, fine art and performance to counselling, sports and animal care (as well as traditional subjects like maths and English). We raised £152,526 and spent £108,848 on young people.
In 2001, Judy Wenban-Smith took over from Jonathan Bratt as Moseley Labour Party representative and Treasurer.
In 2008 we celebrated our tenth anniversary, producing a 15-minute DVD promoting the Fund, narrated by Simon Callow. The anniversary was also celebrated with an evening reception hosted by Birmingham solicitors Anthony Collins, addressed by a number of fund beneficiaries and also by Baroness Helena Kennedy. The event was addressed by Birmingham’s then Lord Mayor, Cllr Randal Brew. Steve Nallon auctioned a range of donated art works, including a piece by Charlene Clempson. Overall, the Fund raised £17,500 during its anniversary year.
Our Second Decade: 2008-2018
Now that the existence of the Fund was well known, we were able to attract many more applications. In the first year of the decade we spent over £24,000, including major grants to seven young people.
A significant proportion of applicants were from two groups who were not entitled to student loans: unaccompanied asylum-seekers and an increasing number of care-leavers doing post-graduate degrees. Our asylum-seeker beneficiaries included students studying engineering, international relations and law, while our post-graduates included students studying screenwriting, cultural and creative industries, classical drama, management, health care policy, social work, fashion, philosophy, politics and health economics, education, and forensic mental health.
Our first first-class degree was awarded to a former asylum-seeker studying mechanical engineering at Birmingham City University. In 2015 our first Open University student, a legal secretary, began a six-year course in forensic psychology.
The major development in our offer following the government’s decision – implemented in June 2016 – to extend its student loan scheme to cover post-graduates. Hitherto, we had paid the fees of eligible post-graduate students. We decided to continue to contribute to the costs of post-graduate care-leavers, in the form of a no-strings-attached bursary of £3,000, which students could use to supplement their maintenance or accommodation allowance or to reduce their burden of student debt. Almost all the growing number of Birmingham care-leaver post-graduates now apply for and receive the bursary.
Our first graduate celebration was a dinner for Ruth Flynn LLB to celebrate her graduation from a legal practice course at the Birmingham college of law.
Beneficiaries continued to design our annual Christmas card. In 2009 beneficiaries of the Fund designed Birmingham City Council’s children’s services calendar.
During our second decade, our Fundraising events established a regular pattern. 2009 saw our first annual pub quiz, which raised over £600, and was compered by Mrs Barbara Nice (aka comedian and actor Janice Connolly). Subsequent comperes of the quiz included actors Andy Hockley, Ian Billings and David Edgar (the actor, not the chair of the Fund). Following a successful graduation lunch held in a city centre Bangldeshi restaurant, the Fund established a tradition of annual spring curry nights, in which generous restauranteurs would provide meals at cost, and the Fund would keep the difference between the cost and a modest charge. Both the quiz and the curry night featured raffles.
Less regular (due to British summer weather) were barbecue summer garden parties, which nonetheless raised good sums for the Fund; during the decade music by Trustee Phil Smith’s band became a feature, and the band also did successful bucket-collection gigs for the Fund at the Highbury pub in Billesley.
In 2010 the Fund held a reception for 2010’s graduates, again at solicitors Anthony Collins, welcomed by Birmingham’s then Lord Mayor, Councillor Len Gregory. The event raised £2,500, primarily from an art auction at which the guest auctioneer was actor and impressionist Jan Ravens. In 2012 Moseley Labour Party members Peter and Pat Bailey organised a fundraising dinner for the fund, hosted by Birmingham City Councillor Lisa Trickett.
Another feature of the second decade’s fundraising was sponsored events, including Carol Austin’s Paris marathon, Councillor Steve Bedser’s Birmingham half marathon, and past and present Treasurers John Rouse and Judy Wenban-Smith (alongside Janis Goodall and Alan Wenban-Smith) walking the 18 miles of Wenlock Edge and raising £1,725. We also collaborated with the Kings Heath Centre Partnership’s Highbury Hall ball, which raised £1,000 for the Fund. By the end of the decade, the curry nights, quiz nights and summer parties were raising regular four-figure sums.
The second decade also saw a considerable increase in support from other Trusts and Foundations, alongside earnings from events and individual donations and standing orders.
To celebrate our second decade in 2018, Stephanie Dale organised a 20/20 sponsorship challenge, inviting 20 supporters to raise £20,000 by undertaking exciting and sometimes dangerous activities, including ascending the Three Peaks (the highest mountains in England, Scotland and Wales, within 24 hours), cycling, a triathlon, running, walking and a parachute jump undertaken by beneficiary Kimberley Cormack and supporter Ian Billings.
Ian and Kim addressed a summer party, held to celebrate the Fund’s work in the summer of 2019, at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, who kindly donated the space. Music was provided by Rough Diamonds, a 24-strong world music choir, which donated its services to the Fund from the evening.
The 20/20 challenge contributed significantly to the £38,120 we raised in our 2018 anniversary year.
At the beginning of our second decade, 48 Birmingham care-leavers were studying at University; five years later it was 65 and by 2006 over 100.
Following Judy Wenban-Smith’s retirement as Treasurer in 2009, Moseley Labour Party appointed John Rouse as its representative, and Treasurer of the Fund. In 2018, the Trust was expanded, to include long-term supporters Deborah Shaw, a children’s lawyer, social worker Phil Smith, and Birmingham’s former Executive Director for Children’s Services, Alastair Gibbons. Birmingham’s children services are now run by the independent Birmingham Children’s Trust, whose Director of Commissioning and Corporate Parenting, David Stringfellow, joined the EBSF Trust in 2019.
Our Third Decade: 2019->
The 2020-21 pandemic led to a predictable decline in the number of Birmingham care-leavers going to university. In 2020, the Fund set up emergency fund, which distributed grants to finance extra costs which students – particularly care-leavers – were facing: printing and stationery equipment, extra books for distance learning, storage space and travel. EBSF befrienders also gave students impacted by Covid advice and support.
In our third decade we sought to expand our offer and encourage applications by writing to all care-leaver undergraduates congratulating them on winning their places and giving them a £100 book token to aid their first year of study. We are also planning to support more students in further education and apprenticeships.
So far in our third decade we have supported students undertaking elective placements in New Zealand and Oregon, USA. We have given post-graduate bursaries to students studying creative writing, finance economics, game development. Audio and creative technology, physical education, the psychology of mental health and engineering management. A striking development has been the number of applicants studying subjects related to the criminal justice system: law, criminology, forensic science and forensic psychology. We are currently supporting our first PhD student, who is studying biomedical science and undertaking original research.
Our graduates have gone on to many impressive careers; they include a social activist and filmmaker, a lawyer specialising in the music and entertainment industries, a music club owner, an archaeologist specialising in bronze age Greek ceramics, a lecturer in art, a doctor, a playwright, a corporate financier, several teachers, a Public Health Practitioner and a number of social workers employed by local government.
Our Treasurer John Rouse retired in 2019, handing over to David Blower, former Assistant Principal of Joseph Chamberlain sixth form college. John died in September 2022. In acknowledgement of his unique contribution to EBSF over many years, the Trust decided to set up a new award in his memory, to help and encourage former beneficiaries in their future careers, particularly in the arts (where employment and finance are both so precarious).