How it all began...
The story of the Eagle House Trust begins with an eighteenth century mansion. A local authority's forethought gave it life 35 years ago and now it is part of Somerset Community Foundation's efforts to give vulnerable young people a fair chance in life.
Eagle House is located on Church Street in Bathford and is attributed to the architect for Georgian Bath, John Wood the Younger. A family home until 1942, the house was then bought by the local authority where it was run by the nuns of St. Joseph's convent as a home for ‘wayward girls’. In 1949 the building become an Approved School for boys and later a Community Home with Education. In 1982 the local authority sold Eagle House and the building reopened as a hotel.
Somerset County Council used the proceeds of this sale to establish the Eagle House Trust. It was then transferred to Somerset Community Foundation in 2011. The Trust’s endowment allows us to award grants to young people in Somerset and historic Avon who have been looked after by their local authority.
Why is this important?
A child is ‘looked after’ by their local authority if a court has granted a care order to place them in care, or a council’s children’s services department has cared for the child for more than 24 hours.
730 children were looked after in Somerset during the year to 31 March 2017.
On their eighteenth birthday, children cease to be looked-after by their local authority but do receive support from a leaving care team. At this age they should, like their peers, be taking part in some form of education, employment or training. But having had lives shaped by instability, and often profound trauma, over half of those who leave care in Somerset are not. It is important to put this figure into perspective: 94% of all young people in Somerset are in sustained education, employment or training, more than double the figure for care leavers.
Care leavers’ concerns, of course, stretch well beyond education. In Somerset significant numbers report mental health and emotional problems, while we know that care leavers nationally are five times more likely to be convicted of a criminal offence and face a much higher risk of becoming homeless.
The Eagle House Trust continues to address these profound needs by supporting care leavers’ education, talent, professional development, and employment.
How does Eagle House help today?
The Eagle House Trust has long provided small grants of up to £500 to care leavers, who use them to pay for everything from driving lessons linked to apprenticeship or employment offers, bikes to get to college, educational trips, and accredited courses. And in 2015 we began to offer two university bursaries a year.
Only 6% of care leavers attend university, compared to almost 50% of the general population. They are also much more likely to withdraw from study than the rest of the university population. Finance is one of many challenges they face to accessing university.
The Eagle House Bursary provides each student with an extra £1,500 for each year they attend university, helping care leavers pay for many everyday essentials.
The Eagle House Trust now has six current bursary holders, and at the time of writing [July 2018] we are receiving applications for this year’s awards.
Here are some of their words:
“I’m studying music at university and having to care for instruments when you play them every day can become rather expensive. With the Eagle House bursary I have been able to pay for instrumental repairs as well as travel around London. Without the bursary I wouldn’t have had an instrument for a while and travelling would have been much harder.”
“I am an engineering student in London. The bursary has been very important to me as I have been able to pay for a laptop, textbooks, and equipment needed for my studies. For example, I attended an engineering fair recently and was able to purchase a whole range of electronic equipment. I am so grateful, and I would to thank Eagle House for the amazing support.”
“[The bursary from Eagle House Trust] helped me in many ways during my first year, especially when the student loan didn’t quite cover what I needed! I have been able to save the last little bit I needed in order to get my first car ready for when my second year work placement starts. This gives me access to a much wider variety of placements without worrying about public transport. The bursary has really helped my overall experience of university and has made it much more enjoyable when I don’t have to worry about my finances quite as much as I would have without it.”
“I’m 22 and a care leaver, now studying in the South East. The money I received has enabled me to purchase basic, but vital, home recording gear to begin my journey as a musician, something I would have struggled to do with only my student loan. This has opened a whole new world of musical exploration for me. I’m really grateful to Somerset Community Foundation, as I now have a clear vision of the path I want to take with my education, hoping to one day help young children in care record and produce their own music."
“Thanks to Eagle House I have been awarded a bursary which will help ease the financial stress. I will now be able to buy all the books I need for my course, print any useful information, pay to use the library resources and much more. My overall grade in my first year was a First and my aim is to try and achieve this overall. This bursary has provided me with a chance to achieve this goal and make my dream job become a reality.”
The next steps
We established an endowment fund with an investment of £511,000 which included £31,000 of match funding. With prudent investment this continues to grow, providing a regular income of £25,000 for small grants and bursaries. But the demand for Eagle House bursaries from care leavers has been increasing.
This year we are considering nine applications, with funds available to award only two.
These bursaries will be awarded alongside those from Huish’s Exhibition Foundation, which supports young people from several schools in Taunton Deane, and the Cheeke & Stodgell Educational Foundation, which funds young people in North Petherton. Like the Eagle House Trust, these foundations have transferred their assets to us for stewardship and now form a growing portfolio of bursaries for young people in Somerset.
We know much more can be done to reduce the barriers to education that disadvantaged young people face in our county. Ultimately, we aim to level the playing field for these young people and give them the opportunity to build a good life for themselves, regardless of their background. It is the challenge of social mobility. A challenge that philanthropists have long risen to, but one that Somerset is currently failing at. The Government’s Social Mobility Commission ranked West Somerset as the worst area for social mobility in the whole of England, while much of our county falls into the bottom third of this measure.
We would love to expand on our success of delivering funding on behalf of local trusts and would welcome conversations with any local donors or businesses looking to set up a bursary scheme. If you are passionate about changing the lives of young people in Somerset, please do get in touch with us to discuss how you can make a difference by calling 01749 344949 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more on the history of Eagle House, read: A History by Peter Bushel, here.