Special Collections & Archives


UK Philanthropy Archive

The UK Philanthropy Archive was established at the University of Kent in 2019 to collect, preserve and provide access to archives relating to philanthropy in the UK. We collect the archives and papers of UK philanthropists, philanthropic trusts and foundations, philanthropic networks, and other related material. You can find out more about our work and research on our events page.

We aim to build a research collection that enables a better understanding of philanthropy and how it impacts the world around us, and we welcome researchers, students, historians, funders and the general public to engage with the collection.

What is philanthropy?

Philanthropy can be difficult to define. The word is derived from the Greek words ‘philos’ which means loving and ‘anthropos’ which means humankind – so can directly be defined as love of humankind. We usually refer to philanthropy in relation to giving something in order to help others. We often think about this in terms of money, but the giving can also include time, skills and other resources. One short but simple definition that we often use at the UK Philanthropy Archive is one by Robert Payton which says philanthropy is “private giving for public good.”

Philanthropy exists to make the world a better place to live. It is different to charity in that it doesn’t just seek to alleviate suffering, but aims to get to the root of the problem and use wealth to effect change and remove existing problems in society.

A person who practices philanthropy is called a philanthropist. Philanthropists are often seen as innovative and entrepreneurial, with a willingness to take risks and look at long term solutions to problems.

Why are we collecting archives about philanthropy?

Attitudes to philanthropy are sometimes positive and sometimes negative. Philanthropy has sometimes been seen as controversial and in recent years has attracted criticism in relation to the powerful position philanthropists hold, and questions over the origins of wealth creation and the ethics of giving this money away. What drives philanthropists to give and what role that philanthropy plays in society are some of the key questions that records and archives can help to answer.

We need to preserve archives on philanthropy to enable the better understanding of a whole range of topics. This includes giving motivation, how philanthropy impacts the world around us, what role philanthropy takes alongside government and business, and how it touches on wider subjects of economics, capitalism, social history and democracy. It would be difficult to fully understand how philanthropic individuals and organisations have influenced UK society without the evidence provided by their archives.

Contributing your archives

If you are a philanthropist, trust or foundation that has archives/records about your organisation and you would like to talk to us about donating them to our collection, then please get in touch. We would also like to hear from philanthropic networks, and others who work in the philanthropic sector who have material that they think may be of interest to our collection.
Please email us at: specialcollections@kent.ac.uk

Content of the archive collections

Papers of the Shirley Foundation

The UK Philanthropy Archive has been generously supported by Dame Stephanie Shirley, a philanthropist and entrepreneur with a focus on autism research and information technology. Dame Stephanie donated the papers of the Shirley Foundation as our founding collection at the archive.

The Shirley Foundation made grants of more than £60m before it closed in 2018. The archives contain papers relating to the projects funded by the Shirley Foundation, as well as material relating to the strategic direction, governance and administration of the Foundation, and includes both paper and digital files.This collection is currently being catalogued – please contact us if you would like to access the collection.

    This includes:

  • Project files (1994-2018)
  • Minutes of Trustees Meetings (1996-2018)
  • Annual Reports (1997-2018)
  • 10 year review of the Shirley Foundation (2006)
  • Report on the impact of the Shirley Foundation (2018)
  • Speeches given by Dame Stephanie Shirley (1997-2018)
  • Press articles and newspaper reports about Dame Stephanie Shirley and the Shirley Foundation
  • Publications and reports relating to autism
  • Papers relating to the Kingwood Trust
  • Papers relating to the National Autism Project 2015-2017
  • Papers relating to the Prior’s Court Foundation

Histories of Trusts and Foundations

We are building a collection of printed histories of UK Trusts and Foundations. Some of these are publications that are available in the University of Kent library collections, and others are available in the Special Collections & Archives reading room.

Oral History collection

We will be carrying out oral history interviews with philanthropists and others in the philanthropic sector, exploring different aspects of their life experiences and philanthropy. We will update the website with these interviews as they are recorded and transcribed.

Map of philanthropy collections in UK

While we are building our collection of philanthropic archives, we also want to explore and signpost the many other archives of philanthropists and philanthropic organisations held around the UK. We have created this map of collections to help researchers identify other relevant archive collections that may be useful in their research.

Please drop us an email if you know of other philanthropy archive collections in the UK so that we can add to our map!


Collection in brief

Contents: press articles, reports, speeches, meeting minutes, oral histories
Period: 20th - 21st century

not yet – email specialcollections@kent.ac.uk for access


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Last Updated: 27/01/2021