Gill O’Donnell finds ways to go shopping for extra school funds

Although you may be familiar with the wide variety of voucher schemes run by retailers for various projects, the local high street may not seem the obvious place to consider when searching for help with other projects. However, most large chains operate a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) agenda and, as part of this, offer grants and awards for community projects.

Others will provide goods in kind or operate schemes to encourage staff to volunteer within the community – all of which is good news for community and school based projects as, by shopping around, you can come up with all kinds of offers of help.

Tesco Charity Trust

Community awards
This offers one-off donations to local projects supporting children and their education and welfare, elderly people or adults and children with disabilities. It looks favourably at projects from special needs schools. It is very much geared towards local communities and small-scale projects with awards of between £500 and £4,000. It will not provide funding for salaries, individual student grants, purchase of land for buildings, refurbishment of buildings (including disabled access) or overseas expeditions.

It has previously supported projects involving:

  • provision of playground equipment in schools
  • sensory garden or room projects
  • outdoor classrooms
  • breakfast and after-school clubs
  • holiday play-schemes
  • part funding to purchase minibuses
  • providing specialist equipment for those with disabilities.

Applications should be made between 1 December and 31 January for a decision by the end of April, or between 1 May and 30 June for a decision by the end of September. Applications for projects which support children with disabilities should be made between 1 February and 31 March for a decision at the end of June or between 1 August and 30 September for decision at the end of December.

Larger grant applications
These are considered by trustees at their tri-annual meetings and are to support local, national or international projects in areas where Tesco operates. They provide one-off donations, ranging between £4,000 and £25,000, with the focus on funding practical equipment and resources which leave a lasting legacy in their local communities.

Would-be applicants are invited to email karen.o’[email protected] with details of the project. If your project fits the criteria an application form will be sent out. However, the company states that there is a fixed budget at each meeting and the number of donation requests always exceeds the funding available so it is possible that good applications, even while meeting the criteria, may have to be refused.

John Lewis (Including Waitrose)

John Lewis Partnership General Community Fund
This operates nationally but is highly competitive. The scheme makes between 30 and 40 awards annually and supports projects involving care for children, young people and the sick and disabled, wildlife and conservation, the elderly, medical research and provision of counselling services. Contact initially should always be via the local branch. With the exception of the Waitrose supermarket branches, the individual stores do not operate a grant scheme as such but try to support community projects in other ways by using time and expertise.

The Golden Jubilee Trust
Established in April 2000, the scheme encourages partners – regardless of age, seniority or length of service – to apply for full or part-time volunteering secondment with any registered UK charity for up to six months. Partners at the Brent Cross branch worked with students with severe learning disabilities at Woodfield Secondary School to transform the grounds by adding flower beds, a pond, a gazebo and a greenhouse. In this instance the store approached a volunteer scheme in the community which put them in touch with the school.

Community investment committees
Each store has a community investment committee, which is responsible for generating engagement and involvement in the local community. They are actively encouraged to forge links with local schools, charities and community groups in order to develop local programmes and monitor the effect of the store’s involvement in the community. For further details contact the community liaison officer at your local branch.

Waitrose branches operate a Community Matters initiative. Each branch is given between £500 and £1,000 each month (dependent on the size of the store) to share out between three local good causes. Customers vote for their preferred cause using a token every time they shop. Donations are made in direct proportion to the number of tokens. Customers can nominate organisations and the final choice is made by the store’s democratic forum. Additionally each branch has a Community Matters champion who will find out about potential beneficiaries and should be used as your first point of contact.

As part of its commitment to good food and healthy eating, Waitrose Education also sponsors the Royal Horticultural Society’s Campaign for School Gardening, which aims to encourage schools to set up gardens so that pupils learn about plants and gardening, which makes it likely to look favourably on project with similar aims.

Boots Chemist

Boots Charitable Trust
Limited to the company’s home area of Nottinghamshire, this supports charities and voluntary groups involved in health, education and social care. The application process for grants under £2,000 is ongoing and it takes approximately two months to receive an answer. For amounts over £2,000 the deadlines are the beginning of February, April, June, August, October and December and responses can take up to four months. Download an application form.

Lifelong learning projects are a key area with the goal being to assist people to achieve their full educational potential. This means they will support projects linked to alternative education for excluded pupils, community education and literacy and numeracy projects.

Team Challenge
Staff in stores nationally are encouraged to take part in team challenges, which encourage sharing skills with schools and community groups. Past examples have included assistance with revamping premises for family-based projects and transforming garden spaces. Office staff in the Nottinghamshire office complex also support local schools by visiting to hear young children read and developing literacy skills.


IKEA states that its global vision is to ‘create a better everyday life for the many’. As part of its CSR commitment, stores operate a community support programme. This varies slightly from store to store, but there is a genuine commitment to work with local organisations that are involved in projects with children and/or the environment. Applications are usually processed within 28 days.

In July 2010 the Lakeside IKEA worked with Quarry Hill Junior School in Grays after the school had been put into special measures by Ofsted. The school was given a make-over, focusing on the quality of teaching and facilities. IKEA Lakeside provided the decoration and furnishing of the new library.


WHSmith Trust
The trust has two objectives:

  • to support the local communities in which WHSmith staff and customers live and work
  • to support education and lifelong learning, helping people of any age to achieve their educational potential

The board of trustees is made up of members of staff from across the group who consider grant applications every two months. They award grants to support the voluntary efforts of WHSmith staff in their local communities and so it is essential to have a member of WHSmith staff involved in order to apply. The Trust will match employee fundraising up to £1,000 and team fundraising up to the value of £2,000. Employee involvement can take on a variety of forms, including volunteering day-to-day help with a school. Employees can only apply for one grant request per year.

Volunteers in Schools programme
To encourage members of staff to become involved with education, the Trust operates a special fund to support any who play an active role in a school. The employee must work on a permanent contract for WHSmith and regularly volunteer for a minimum of four hours per month with activities in a local school. Two grants are on offer:

  • £250 – for employees involved in a support group (ie PTA, League of Friends) or general fundraising
  • £500 – for employees involved in the management of the school (ie governor, treasurer etc.)

Community challenges
The Trust encourages employees who participate in team community challenges to complete a specific task to benefit a local school or charity. This could be redecorating a specific area of a school or arranging a literacy event. Those involved in a team challenge can apply for up to £250 per project to cover the cost of materials or equipment used in the challenge.

Schools raffle
Every month the Trust holds a raffle which is open only to schools. The winners receive a donation of WHSmith Education Achievement reward vouchers. These can be redeemed against books, stationery, and educational CD-ROMs.


One Planet Living
These awards are not in cash, but in materials only. Application is via your local store and can be for materials valued between £50 and £250. Each store is allocated funds in February and this is a time-limited offer. The award only covers B&Q goods, eg, pond liners, plants, peat-free compost for projects such as a pond/wildlife garden or paints labelled low or minimal VOC for redecoration projects. Projects must be sustainable and the materials and methods used should not cause any short or long-term environmental damage. As the grant is a one-off donation, it is important that projects not only offer long-lasting benefit to the community but also are easy-care as there is no provision of support for maintenance.

Waste donationThe waste donation scheme is a system where, at the store manager’s discretion, goods no long available for sale can be donated to schools, community groups and charities. The materials on offer are items such as end-of-range goods, off-cuts of timber, slightly damaged tins of paint, odd rolls of wallpaper etc. All the goods are perfectly usable but simply not suitable for sale.

For both schemes your first point of contact is the store manager.

Other schemes

Other better-known retailer operated schemes are:

It is also worth checking smaller local companies as many of them do operate community support programmes as part of their CSR. For example, Booths supermarket chain (based in Yorkshire and the North West only) provided a grant of £7,000 to Settle College as part of their Settle Together intergenerational project, which ran from 2001-2004.

Gill O’Donnell is an education consultant