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'I wanted to help the community'

Anna Leask is a keen swimmer. So keen that in 2013 she decided to swim 27 kilometres across Lake Zurich in Switzerland.

It wasn’t a charity event to start with. “I decided to do it for fun,” says Anna. “But then I realised it was a fairly significant thing I was undertaking, so I felt it was fitting to do some fundraising.”

Looking for a local grassroots scheme to support, Anna, who lives just off the Walworth Road, found The Elephant & Castle Community Fund.

This is a long-term London Community Foundation project to help people in a part of Southwark that is going through extensive redevelopment.

“I gave The Foundation a call to find out more,” says Anna. “Apart from anything else, the person I spoke to seemed to be really engaged with the idea that I wanted to do something to help my local community. I didn’t get that reaction from any other charity.”

“Suddenly, I saw that I had a wonderful opportunity to give very specific, targeted support to local causes. I would be able to help groups where I knew that any money I raised from my swim would make a demonstrable, real difference.”

Anna’s target was to raise £500; in the end she managed over £2,000. The Elephant & Castle fund is using that money to support schemes like Siobhan Davies Dance, a creative movement project for isolated elderly people and those with mental health or learning difficulties.

Recognising Anna’s enthusiasm for community engagement, The Foundation invited her to become a member of the panel that decides which grant applications are approved.

“That was completely unexpected,” she says. “I got very involved in discussions. It was a fascinating process and it really connected me with my local community.”

Some of Anna’s money – like the rest of the fund’s assets – has gone into an endowment investment. That means the fund can keep making grants for years to come, by distributing only the interest it earns.

“That was just the cherry on the cake,” says Anna. “It means the money has real longevity.”

That kind of sustained support is important, says Anna. “The redevelopment of the Elephant & Castle will take a long time. People who live here need support to keep their sense of community together.”

Supporting the fund has given Anna a sense of personal achievement, too. “I don’t have kids, so I’m not tapped into the community in the way some people might be. I do my thing, go to work, come home. I’ve been one of those cash-rich, time-poor people.”

“It’s been lovely to see what’s going on in the local area and to know there are lots of groups doing really good things for really good reasons. I hope to maintain my link with the fund, and I might raise some more money in future. But I keep saying to myself, I’m not going to swim the channel.”

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