Uncovering Kent’s hidden history of philanthropy

Wendy Raeside
Hidden History by Triona Fitton

The hidden history of philanthropy at Kent, and its part in our leading UK university status, is uncovered by a fascinating Beacon Project.

Kent’s Culture of Philanthropy Beacon Project has researched donations to the University over the past 50 years. Findings have been shared at three public debates across our campuses, a major international conference and in a publication titled Hidden History: Philanthropy at the University of Kent.

The project is one of 12 Beacon Projects funded as part of the University’s 50th anniversary celebrations, and chosen to underline Kent’s excellence in different areas and to inspire future endeavours.


Why philanthropy matters

The Philanthropy project has been led by staff in the Centre for Philanthropy, a leading centre of philanthropy research, teaching and public engagement. Centre researcher and author of the Hidden History book, Dr Triona Fitton explains why the project is important.

Triona Fitton

Dr Triona Fitton

Triona: ‘We wanted to find a way of shedding a light on the role philanthropy has played in the University’s history. A lot of public perceptions are inaccurate – the University of Kent was seen as a solely publicly-funded university, but that’s ignoring the key part that major private funders have played right from the beginning.’


Hidden History book

Hidden History reveals, for example, that American pharmaceutical company Pfizer donated £50,000 to the University in 1965 – equivalent to £800,000 in today’s money. More recently, it has funded a Chair in Medical Statistics and provided £500,000 to establish a head of the School of Pharmacy at our Medway campus.

Philanthropy on campus - Hidden History

Philanthropy on campus – Hidden History

The book demonstrates the full scope of charitable giving at Kent, from funding landmark buildings – including the Gulbenkian, Colyer-Fergusson Music Building and Kent Law Clinic – to artworks – such as the bust of writer TS Eliot in Eliot College – and memorial trees and benches across our campuses.

Readers of the book are invited to take a tour of these ‘hidden treasures’, as well as find out more about Kent’s funding from its inception, how scholarships for academic excellence, music and sports have helped us to become a top-20 UK university, and endowment opportunities for the future.


Awareness-raising events

To help raise awareness of the importance of charitable giving at Kent, a series of three debates were held at our Athens, Canterbury and Medway campuses. The debates, during spring 2015, brought together philanthropy recipients, givers and university staff to discuss the role of philanthropy in higher education.

Thank and Give (TaG) event - May 2015

Flickr album for the Thank and Give (TaG) event – May 2015

In May 2015, a ‘Thank and Give’ (TaG) event was organised by staff in our Development Office who placed colourful tags on philanthropic gifts at each of our campuses.

These events paved the way for a major international conference on ‘Understanding Philanthropy’ in June 2015, featuring two international philanthropy keynote speakers: Professor Michael Moody, author of Understanding Philanthropy: Its Meaning and Mission and Professor Renė Bekkers, Director of the Centre for Philanthropic Studies at VU University, Amsterdam.


What’s next?

Chairing the conference was Centre for Philanthropy Director Dr Beth Breeze who said that Kent’s Culture of Philanthropy Beacon Project was all about underlining the important part that charitable giving has played in the University’s history, with the aim of inspiring future donations.

Dr Beth Breeze

Dr Beth Breeze

Beth: ‘Philanthropy is often overlooked, both on and off campus, and we are glad to have shone a spotlight on the ongoing contribution that private gifts make to society in general and to our university in particular. When people understand the nature of voluntary giving, and how it can complement state funding and the market, they may be more likely to decide to give – and to give more – to the causes that are important to them, like their alma mater.

‘We hope that this project will contribute to a stronger future for the University of Kent, as philanthropic support will matter even more in the next 50 years.’


Find out more

Read more about Kent’s Culture of Philanthropy project

Copies of Hidden History, are available priced £20 from Blackwells on the Canterbury campus. An optional donation can be made to the Kent Opportunity Fund, which supports a range of student scholarships and projects.

The book is also available to Kent staff and students electronically on KAR

View details of Kent’s new online Master’s programme in Philanthropic Studies

Visit the Beacon Projects website for further information on this and other projects to mark Kent’s 50th anniversary