Our Spring reception at Layer Marney Tower

21st May 2024

Around 100 of our fundholders, donors and supporters joined us for our Spring reception at Layer Marney Tower, in Colchester, held in their beautifully renovated Essex Barn.

These events are a great opportunity for us to bring people together to raise the profile of our work, the local voluntary sector and the importance of giving locally, and we are so grateful to our Nick and Sheila Charrington for once again hosting us.

On arrival, guests could see the Castlemilk Mooritt Sheep and lambs grazing on the front lawns.  As the sun was shining, they enjoyed reception drinks in the courtyard and could wander around the beautiful gardens.

Once seated in the Barn, our Chair of Trustees, Nick Alston CBE DL shared an update on our activities, including that we have already given away £2.8 million this financial year, and introduced our speakers.

This year, our guest speakers were Martin Hopkins and his daughter, Pollyanna who spoke about their involvement with the Christopher Holmes Charitable Fund, and Tina Hart, the regional manager of Ormiston Families, talked about the charity’s work supporting children affected by imprisonment of a parent or loved one.


The Christopher Holmes Charitable Fund was established with us in 2011 and named after an exceptional lawyer, who was widely admired for his tireless work supporting local charities.

Prior to Chris sadly passing away following a brain tumour, which became apparent almost immediately after his retirement from Birkett Long, he told his close friend and colleague Martin Hopkins that he wanted to set up a Fund with ECF in his name.  He asked Martin and his family to be involved as advisers, working with ECF to agree which charities and voluntary groups should receive support in his memory.

We work with Martin Hopkins, his wife Rachel and their children, Pollyanna, Rowen and Alexander, to award grants annually.

Polly said, “I am so grateful for my involvement from a young age with charitable giving. Chris’s fund, and his legacy, is a lesson in generosity, kindness and philanthropy that I have carried into my adult life.

“The truth is our family could not have managed the scale of the Fund or given as much money to as many good causes, without the support and expertise of the Foundation. ECF have made such an effort to ensure that not only my parents, but also me and my brothers, have had opportunities to engage with the fund’s work, as well as wider ECF projects.

“Before Chris died, he explained where he wanted our family to direct the money from his fund. Every grant decision we take as a family is intended to reflect his wishes and his desire to help those that society pays less attention too.”

This year, the Fund has reached the amazing milestone of having given £536,000 to a wide range of voluntary organisations in Essex, and because the fund is invested for the long-term, it will continue awarding grants year on year.


Ormiston Families works across the East of England, offering services to help children and their families who are affected by the imprisonment or offending behaviour of a relative.  They provide early support for people experiencing mental and emotional problems and run a wide range of family services in local communities.

We have been pleased to support their Breaking Barriers programme, which has also received funding from the Christopher Holmes Charitable Fund.

In the UK every year it is estimated that 312,000 children have a parent in prison, however there is currently no statutory framework to identify these children, so the number is likely to be higher. It falls upon charities and services like Ormiston Families to give support to children and families who find themselves in this situation.

The impact of familial imprisonment can be long lasting.  It disrupts family life, can lead to poor mental health, involve negative school experiences and cause a lack of trust in others, resulting in unhealthy relationships and behaviours.

Studies have shown that 65% of boys with a convicted parent go onto offend themselves.  Ormiston Families believes this number is not predetermined and with Breaking Barriers intervention this number can be reduced.

Breaking Barriers offers tailored one-to-one support to reduce anxiety around prison visits.  It supports young people with their emotional wellbeing and school attendance and provides a safe space for them to talk, play and express themselves.  This enables children and young people to explore their feelings and break down some of the barriers which may prevent them from maintaining positive ties with their imprisoned family member.

Ormiston Families has helped approximately 200 children across Essex through the Breaking Barriers programme.


Tommy’s Story, by Tina Hart, Regional Manager at Ormiston Families:

Tommy was 13 years old when his brother was arrested, charged, and imprisoned for a serious offence and it was at this point everything changed for Tommy.

Prior to this event Tommy was a happy teenage boy.  He loved playing football and sports with his friends, he enjoyed a game of chess with his brother and was a good student.

Tommy had lived in Essex all his life, his wider family to whom he was very close, all lived nearby. Following the arrest and imprisonment of his brother, Tommy’s life imploded at an age when an adolescent is establishing their identity and autonomy.  Tommy was having to question everything he thought he knew.

Due to the nature of the crime, the story was reported in the media and widely shared on social media platforms. The local community and even their own family turned against Tommy and his mum, leaving them isolated and carrying the stigma of a crime they themselves had not committed.

It was for this reason Mum took the decision to relocate to where no one would know who they were, and they would not need to tell anyone about what had happened to them.  As you can imagine this is a huge burden to carry.

We often talk about loss, the hidden harm to children affected by the imprisonment of a loved one, and how the feelings are not dissimilar to a bereavement, minus the care and empathy.

Tommy had suffered a great deal of loss. The loss of his beloved brother, his family, his home and the place he grew up, school and friendships and even the loss of the financial security due to Mum having to close her business.

When we met Tommy, he was struggling to engage with education due to a deterioration in his mental health, he was reluctant to accept support. Eventually he did agree to meet with a breaking barriers practitioner, on the understanding that they played chess with him and didn’t ask questions.

On his own terms Tommy shared that he found it difficult to talk about his feelings and he felt angry with his brother saying, ‘he’s ripped the family apart’.

Following the initial session Tommy began to refuse to see the practitioner, but she would show up every week as planned and sometimes she would speak with Mum offering a listening ear and advise on what she could do to help Tommy.

Like most parents she was desperate for Tommy to make friends, go to school and be happy again.

Tommy came to realise that at Ormiston,we don’t give up easily and he began to engage again. It was then that he explained how much he wanted to go to school, but each time he tried it felt like an invisible barrier was there that he just couldn’t get past. Tommy asked if this was something that we could help him with.

Tommy’s goal was to understand his feelings of anxiety, recognise the triggers, the physical signs and symptoms and learn some strategies to help him manage these feelings.

Tommy told us he was feeling under pressure to return to school before he was ready, and this was causing him more anxiety. He asked the practitioner if she could advocate for him at a school attendance meeting. The practitioner helped Tommy to write down what he wanted to say, and she would be his voice.

This was a huge turning point for Tommy, he was able to tell someone what he was feeling and have his voice heard and listened to.

By the end of our intervention Tommy told us he was ready to return to school in the new term. He went to an attendance meeting and with the support of Mum and his breaking barriers practitioner was able to talk to school about a manageable return to school plan.

He was given access to the school gym at times when it was quiet so he could get out and engage in an activity that he enjoyed and which was good for his mental health.  Tommy also began to reach out to friends old and new.

Tommy asked Mum if she would reach out to their family as he missed his cousins.  Mum agreed to find a way to make this happen.

Tommy now goes out regularly.  He takes his dog for walks and he plans to go to college.

At the end of the intervention, Tommy told us that he enjoyed his sessions, and it has made him want to do more things.  He said,  ‘I’ve gone from sad to happy’.