CHARITIES across the North-East have suffered a major blow with the demise of the Northern Rock Foundation. Mark Tallentire reports.

OVER the 16 years since it was founded when the then-Northern Rock Building Society was demutualised, the Northern Rock Foundation has become almost an ever-present in North-East charity circles.

The easiest answer to the question of who has benefitted from its £200m-plus of grants and commissions is: virtually everybody.

Hence, countless charities and voluntary groups across the region will be reeling at the news that talks between the Foundation and its latter day paymasters Virgin Money have ended without agreement.

As of later this year, the Foundation will be no more – leaving many desperately casting around for alternative sources of funding, in an ever-more competitive bidding market.

Jo Barnett, from Virgin Money, emphasised the firm’s “broad community programme”, including the Virgin Money Giving not-for-profit fundraising website.

However, Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson said the Foundation’s closure would be a big loss, while North Durham MP Kevan Jones described it as “massive blow for community groups throughout the North-East”.

From £5 for a Tyneside Cinema study visit to £3m for the Newcastle-Gateshead Initiative, the Foundation’s small team has worked tirelessly to improve life around the North-East and Cumbria, focusing particularly on poor and disadvantaged areas.

Among its major beneficiaries have been the youth homelessness charity Depaul UK, Citizens’ Advice, the Sage Gateshead, the Regional Refugee Forum North East and The Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle.

Its funding has helped create a new art gallery in Middlesbrough, refurbish Newcastle’s Theatre Royal and Darlington’s railway museum and Arts Centre, support the Northern Centre for Cancer Treatment, restore Durham Castle and improve Gateshead International Stadium.

Last year, Justin Welby, now Archbishop of Canterbury, saw the Foundation’s cash in action at Bike Stop, a bike maintenance social enterprise hub in Darlington.

But Labour MPs say the Treasury should have seen today’s news coming. As far back as 2011, they called on ministers to force Northern Rock’s buyers to guarantee the Foundation’s long-term future.

“My fears have unfortunately come to pass,” said Phil Wilson.

“It’s another nail in the coffin for David Cameron’s Big Society.”

In 2011, the Treasury reached an agreement under which Northern Rock would continue to contribute one per cent of its profits to the Foundation until December 2012 – a deal later extended to the end of 2013.

But County Durham-born Treasury minister Mark Hoban made it clear it would be up to whoever bought the bank to decide what happened after that.