Jack Petchey


Sir Jack Petchey is a self-made man whose successful businesses include car hire, property and tourism ventures, most notably bringing the ‘timeshare’ concept to the UK. After a lifetime of charitable work he established the Jack Petchey Foundation in 1999, which has since distributed over £100m.

How did your philanthropy begin?

I was born in 1925 into a working class family in the East End of London and left school aged 13 with no qualifications. I’m now aged 90 and have given away over £100m to help and motivate children and young people. How did that happen? I was a Boy Scout – not the most dedicated one, but l got on and it gave me principles and taught me that you have to help others. Jimmy Green was the leader and he used to have whip rounds for young people with disabilities, so they could go to camp, and that’s how it really started. We also used to fetch the kids up from the children’s homes on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and give them tea, and it just sort of moved on from there.

As my businesses grew, my giving grew. Eventually I felt it needed to be a bit more systemised, not just ad-libbing, so I established the Jack Petchey Foundation in 1999. We focus on supporting youth projects in the area I was born and brought up – and still live – and in the areas where I made my money: London, Essex and the Algarve area of Portugal. 

What support have you provided for charities in donations worth £1m or more?

The Foundation has given more than £1m to quite a few projects. But we don’t focus on the money – it’s about finding ways to help young people. Philanthropy goes wrong if you only give money.

Some funding is given to organisations that apply to us; for example, I’m glad to support the work of Anthony Nolan so they can raise awareness of blood cancer and recruit more young donors to join the stem cell register.

But most of our funding goes on programmes that we have instigated, because they didn’t exist! The biggest is the Jack Petchey Achievement Award Scheme; it’s our best investment and it works wonders. We’ve put in £31m over 15 years. It’s now operating in 2,000 clubs and schools and we want all state secondary schools and colleges in London and Essex to apply. 

I’m also proud of Jack Petchey's Speak Out Challenge, which has had £4.5m over nine years, and is now the largest speaking competition for young people in the world. 

And we are continuing to support the Step into Dance programme with the Royal Academy of Dance, which so far has had £3.5m. I wish I’d danced as a young man, so we support young dancers.

One day I learnt that kids in special schools rarely got the chance to do inter-school sports. I thought that was wrong, so we have a partnership with the Panathlon Challenge which has had £0.5m to help young people with disabilities to participate in competitive sports.

I’ve also given £2m for two lodges at the Gilwell Park Scout Activity Centre, which is the home of scouting in the UK. And I gave £1m for the TS Jack Petchey, a training ship for sea cadets.

So we have given a lot of ‘million pound donations’, but as I said, none of these are about the money, it’s about finding ways to help young people believe that ‘if they think they can, they can’ – the foundation’s motto.

How do you decide which causes to support at this level, and have your favoured causes changed over time?

We focus on young people because they’re less able to look after themselves than adults. And they need more leadership, more encouragement, more teaching. It’s also because they’ve got their life ahead of them so it’s a better investment. That sounds a bit commercial and very crude, but it’s true. We get more value for our money! 

Also, we like to help people to help themselves. I think that’s very important.  I will always help those that will help themselves. I often refer to the saying, ‘if you give a man a fish then you feed him for a day, whereas if you teach a man how to fish then you feed him for a lifetime’. I don’t want to make anyone dependent. So if they have the belief to put half in (and when we say half it doesn’t have to be an exact half), then we’ll match it.

I don’t get out so much now, but certainly in my earlier times I used to see the kids we’d helped in the street and they used to yell out, “Jack!  Jack!”.  They also write in. Every week we get letters or emails, telling us how well they’ve done as a result of our support. There was a young man we helped with a bursary and he wrote to say that now he was earning he wanted to give the money back. And I said to him: “Well, no, you’ve done really well for yourself so think about how you can help someone else.”  And so he set up a little scheme to fund some people back in Africa where he’d come from.

So it does work. It gives them confidence. The motivation works. Success is in the mind – if you believe you can do something, then the battle is half won.

Is your philanthropy influenced by your family, your faith, your colleagues or other factors?

The traditions and ideals we are taught and shown at a young age reflect how we turn out later in our lives. And although at the time we may not feel it means much, it can lead to being the centre of what we do and think.

The biggest influence in my life has been my contact with the Scouts.I remember the old Scouts logo, it was a picture of kids helping other kids over a stile.  I can see it now; it was a good logo and a good principle – give others a helping hand so they can help others.

Going away with them to camp and helping young people with disabilities, especially in those days when they were in homes. We used to have the kids out from Dr Barnardo’s every Saturday or Sunday lunchtime and we used to go and collect them and fetch them in for tea. It made my kids appreciate their luck when they saw them with no parents.


I have got a lot out of life and I want to give something back. Seeing change take place in young people - that’s the best investment!

How is your family involved in your philanthropy?

One of the reasons we got involved with charities was for my kids to realise how lucky they were. And they’ve come out very well. One of my daughters, my son-in-law and my grandsons have various roles on the board of the Foundation and on the boards of projects we support.

I’m quite close to my grandsons and they are getting more involved, they come and do some of our presentations, which gives them a feel for what we do.

How does it feel to be able to offer this level of support, especially to fund important and innovative work that might otherwise not have received support?

It feels good to know we are making a difference – it’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. Nothing makes me more proud than when young people write in and tell me how their lives have changed for the better.

There’s many, many people beside us that give a helping hand – I’m not the only one in the world doing this! Lots of people give in different ways and at all different levels. I think cadet leaders and youth leaders give back to society so much more than others, so we try and recognise them through our leader awards scheme, and that’s important. We can’t do it without the schools and the youth leaders. I often say it’s like a dance, and we need a partner!

I am fortunate enough to have earned a lot of money, and having money does help. But it’s not the be all and end all, just giving money. I think encouragement is very, very important.

What are your experiences and expectations of working with charities?

The day-to-day work is left to the Foundation staff ; they visit and meet regularly with those we fund because we are working in partnership to achieve shared aims. We like to meet the leadership and the trustees on occasion, but most of all we communicate with the person delivering the project.

We don’t want to create unnecessary work, so we keep [progress reports] simple and systemise it. For major programmes we like a monthly email briefing on the work they are doing and then we meet face-to-face quarterly. But for smaller grants we only expect a very simple report twice a year; there’s no expectation of lots of words just for the sake of it.

It’s important to me that we have strong relationships with the charities we fund and that we don’t just give them money but encouragement, support and leadership as well.

We want programmes that we support to have high visibility, profile and impact. We want to support things that are inspiring, challenging and exciting, because then young people will want to be involved. We want to raise aspirations, be positive and upbeat, and most importantly we want to get our message across: “If you think you can, you can”.

We also want our money to be well spent. We look for programmes that represent good value and we ask “what’s the cost of the benefit per person per hour?”!

When we support major programmes with grants of six-figures or more, we always have a partnership with them. We never give them the money and just say: “Right, that’s it. Go off and do what you’re going to do.” By partnering with people and helping each other we can make that money go further. Our expertise and their expertise make it go further. Once a year we try and bring together all the major programmes that we fund to talk about their experience of working with us and also to learn from each other and make use of each other’s strengths.

Also, we try and make the criteria [for applying for funds] absolutely clear so people filter themselves rather than us putting people through all the trauma of a big application and then turning them down.

Have you been particularly pleased with a donation?

I’m proud of it all! But a special one is the Petchey Academy. I was asked by Tony Blair, when he was Prime Minister, if I would support a failing school in Hackney. So I went to see it and it was the filthiest, dirtiest school I’d ever seen in my life. And I thought: “Well, I don’t know much about education but I can clean this school up.”  So we took it on, put in £2m and now those kids are coming out believing in themselves. They’re going to universities, getting jobs, realising their potential and giving back to society in a positive way.

I used to visit the school quite often, but I can’t manage that anymore. So some of the kids come to the foundation office for lunch. They’re nervous to start with, but they relax and enjoy it. They get a little treat on their way out and I get to learn about their parents and their backgrounds, and what they like and don’t like about the school.

The last time I was there was really lovely, I was just walking across the dining room and spontaneously kids stood up and started clapping. It was lovely – I got a lump in my throat.


I don't want to be the richest man in the graveyard. 

What are your plans for developing your philanthropy in the future?

More of the same! If it ain’t broke, don’t mend it, right?  But I do want to give even more away so I will have to work harder!

Over time we have crystallised our principles and we have got a better sense of what works. So we are now clearer in our focus, we know what we want to achieve and we have a clear sense of direction.

But as we celebrate our first 15 years, we have asked all those we work with to give us their ideas on what we should expand, improve and do more of. The first young people we helped are now adults, so we are asking them – and the young people we’re currently helping – to influence and develop the areas we focus on.

Do you have any advice for other people who have the capacity to give at this level?

Do it – you will enjoy it! Decide what it is you want to achieve before you start giving and then stick to it. Set your goals, work out your policy and procedures, and stay focused. Have the courage to say no, even though it’s not pleasant. You can be flexible, but I would certainly lay down what your goals and objectives are, so you have guidelines.

Are there any other thoughts on being a transformational donor that you would like to share?

I have got a lot out of life and I want to give something back. Seeing change take place in young people, seeing a young person who was in care going to Oxford University, that’s the best investment. I have done a lot in my life, but what I am most proud of is the Foundation.

More than anything I believe that people should think of others and give back to society, no matter how small an act of kindness or generosity. In giving, you also receive and the world is a better place for it.

I don’t want to be the richest man in the graveyard. Actually, I don’t want to be in the graveyard at all, I’ve got a lot to do yet!