The Leathersellers Foundation building in London

What a warm welcome!

Blue Cabin Vice Chair and Trustee, Catherine Hearne, represented the charity at a dinner at Leathersellers’ Hall celebrating grantees of the Leathersellers’ Foundation.

The Leathersellers is a 600-year-old organisation in the City of London focused on working with charities to enable individuals and communities, fostering opportunity through education, and supporting the UK leather trade.

Catherine shares her experience of the event, which brought together grant recipients and members of the Leathersellers’ Company.

Unaccustomed as I am to attending black tie dinners in the City of London, the Leathersellers made me feel completely at home when I joined them this May.

Blue Cabin is proud to have been awarded a multi-year grant by the Leathersellers’ Foundation. The process of securing the core funding was rigorous with great attention to detail – which we respected hugely. The unexpected invitation to attend their annual charities dinner was a bonus. Not least for me as Blue Cabin’s Vice Chair. It’s one of the best “deputising” roles I’ve been offered in some time. Director Jenny Young was already busy, presenting alongside one of Blue Cabin’s Associate Artists at A Prescription for Life symposium in Manchester, so I was delighted to book my rail tickets and hotel, pack my posh frock and show off to my friends that this opportunity had come my way.

I know London pretty well and confidently set off for Leathersellers’ Hall in St Helen’s Place from the nearby tube. But a little stress did begin to take its toll when I realised I was going round in circles. Thankfully a young city worker finally pointed me in the right direction and one of the kind Leathersellers staff spotted me looking helpless in said posh frock. He metaphorically took me by the arm and led me up the steps into their beautiful building just in time for the formal dinner.

Leathersellers’ Hall

This is the seventh Hall in the Company’s history, and this part of London, as well as nearby on London Wall, has been their home for six centuries. The new Hall, designed by Eric Parry, was opened by the Earl of Wessex in 2017 and he, like me, must have been impressed by the stunning architecture. Most striking as I bustled in, aware of being not quite late, was the spiral staircase. Large stained glass windows and rich purple carpeting led down to the dining room where immediately I was encouraged to head to my table and find my seat. Chatter was lively, the atmosphere was friendly, and it felt as though everyone was really pleased to be there.

I didn’t know another soul in the room but didn’t feel at all overwhelmed. Conversation began immediately with people on my right with members of the Leathersellers’ Company. This was my chance to learn more about the leather industry in Britain today. I did know about the shoemakers of Northampton but the rich history of handbag making in Bedford was new to me. Fascinating!

Dinner was absolutely delicious, and I was delighted that the meal ended with Forman’s smoked salmon which I’d heard about but never tasted. A treat!

Bringing together Leathersellers’ grantees

The purpose of the dinner is to celebrate the work of grantees; to reinforce relationships;, and for members to get the chance to meet representatives of the charities. I was fortunate that on my left was a member of the Leathersellers’ Charity Committee. She – and yes there have been female members at the Leathersellers for some time now! – explained how proud she was to have been working with grantees. It gave her an understanding of the rich work charities all over the country are doing. She was also proud that Leathersellers aim to make the process of grant management as easy as possible. No formal report writing. Instead, they’ve developed an approach to conversations which ensures everyone is helped and supported by the evaluation process.

All too soon we were onto the toasts and what we knew would be the end of a fantastic evening. But not before Emily Thomas, Governor of HMP Isis, thanked our hosts on behalf of the guests, the grantees. Again, there was an insight into a world I know little of. Emily was amusing and entertaining, fitting the mood of the evening but also made her points clearly about life at the sharp end of the criminal justice system. She praised Leathersellers for awarding grants to charities working with children and young people facing all kinds of disadvantage. That early intervention she believed was essential. By the time 18 year olds are in Isis – named after the ancient name for the Thames – it’s tough to help them change path.

The Leathersellers’ Annual Charities Dinner was an eye-opener in ways I hadn’t expected. It was great fun and a joy to be in a space where we felt so warmly welcomed. Blue Cabin really is looking forward to developing a deeper relationship with the Company and Foundation in the coming years.

Find out more about The Leathersellers' Foundation

The Leathersellers’ Foundation provides funding to UK charities and individuals across its core areas of charity, education, and leather, and has awarded Blue Cabin a grant of £80,000 over four years.

Find out more about The Leathersellers’ Foundation here.