Essex Community Foundation
"Jason is an incredibly positive person. He is a joy to work with and is always keen to visit local charities so that he can learn about their work. He is very much aware of the advantages he has had in his life and, through the Bartella Charitable Fund, is determined to help those who may not be as fortunate."
Jo Murphy, head of communications, ECF

The Bartella Charitable Fund

Bartella is one of the best known names in Essex and the family’s business, the Heritage Leisure Group, has some of the top venues in the county, including Pontlands Park Hotel in Great Baddow.

Here Jason Bartella tells of his trepidation when his father Robert wanted to start up a charity, but how having an endowed fund in the family’s name with Essex Community Foundation (ECF) made giving to good causes a pleasure.

Jason, 45, managing director of the Heritage Leisure Group and a trustee with ECF, also reveals what motivates him to be a modern-day philanthropist.

“One day my Dad woke up and decided he wanted us as a family to set up a charity. He had started his first businesses, including Dukes nightclub, here in Chelmsford, had expanded across Essex and wanted to give something back to the community.

When he told me about his idea of starting a charity I thought it was mad.  I was worried that if we were running our own charity then the legal, accountancy and administration fees would run away with a lot of the money. It would also mean a huge commitment in terms of time.

I know that people may look at us and think our life is all blossoms and tulips but, like many families, we have had to deal with the unexpected, including the death of our mother from cancer and I have been through the experience of having a brain tumour removed.  Luckily the tumour was benign, but the whole thing as incredibly traumatic for me and my family and has left me with total deafness on the left side. 

Our family lawyer, Graeme Atkinson, knew about Essex Community Foundation and suggested to us that this would be the way of setting up a fund in the family’s name without the difficulties of having our own charity.

We had a meeting with ECF and it was simple to set up the Bartella Charitable Fund, leaving us with the easy and fun part, raising money and distributing grants.

From the start we said that we wanted the money from our fund to be spent locally, where our businesses are based, although we are happy to go a little further afield if ECF presents us with a project which feels right.

We also said that ideally we wanted to support organisations working with children and families and, as I am dyslexic, I was also interested in local charities helping children and adults to deal with dyslexia.
It is good to know that the money we raise through our events helps our endowed fund with ECF grow and money we give the goes directly to the charities we want to support, with only a minimal amount taken for administration. The money in our fund can, through ECF, achieve a much better rate through investment and the good it does will go on in perpetuity.

I know people might look at us as a family and say, ‘Well, they can afford to give to charity,’ but the truth is nobody will say they can really afford to give money away, unless it is from their heart and they believe in it.

I receive a letter appealing for money about once a week and trying to choose between these and decide when to give money would be impossible. I can reply, hand on heart, that we do have our own charitable fund to help local people. My Dad lives abroad now, but he and my sister Jules have active involvement in the Bartella Charitable Fund.

ECF discuss with us the applications they have received for funding and we choose which ones we would like to support financially from our fund.

Through ECF we can be involved in the organisations we support and we can also see the outcome of the money we give.

You have to be touched by the causes you support and two inspiring projects we have supported are PARC in Great Notley, a play and resource centre for children with disabilities and the Melbourne Project, where we fund cookery classes for children.

When I visit the PARC centre I come away knowing how lucky I am to have healthy children. If you think you are having a bad day or things are not going well for you, then spending time there really puts life into perspective and you realise how important organisations like PARC are to the families who need them.

The Melbourne Project, which we fund regularly, is also an eye opener and when we became involved we realised it was run by nuns who used to teach my step sisters at New Hall school.

Sister Margaret and Sister Moira had come to live on the Melbourne Estate and do an amazing job, engaging with people of all ages living in that community, giving them support and, in an informal way, picking up on issues which may be affecting them.

I have taken along my children, who are twelve, nine and four, to the cookery classes which the nuns run in the holidays and it has helped them realise the importance of charitable work and “giving something back” to the community we live in.

I tell everyone I can about ECF because I am so passionate about it. I was asked to become a trustee about four years ago and it was a massive compliment, but also a massive decision, as I don’t like to do anything half-heartedly.

I have to say that it is a big responsibility, but I love every minute of it. My wife Lisa is a great support and together we organise an annual fundraising event for ECF at Pontlands Park.

This year’s event is on Friday September 13th, which we are sure will turn out to be a lucky date.