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The lessons I learnt from working at Centre for London

Before his departure from the Centre for London team, our Head of Development Max Goldman reflects on his time at the heart of our fundraising team, and what it has taught him about London and its policy challenges:

I’ve been fundraising for Centre for London for the past four years. I joined the Centre because as a lifelong Londoner I care about the city, and I thought London’s policy challenges were not just important to solve but also fascinating. This week I’m moving on to a new role elsewhere in the city. Before I go, I want to share some things I’ve learnt in my time here. 

A city of funders  

Part of the reason that Centre for London exists is that London is a difficult place to understand. The city as we know it is the amalgamation of layer upon layer of administrative advocacy and private interest: 32 boroughs, each with their own way of working; the Greater London Authority; Transport for London; the City of London; a patchwork of major landowners; countless borough initiatives and partnerships; influential business improvement districts; and a long list of hugely important institutions with their own major chunks of the capital to look after, from the Port of London Authority to Network Rail to Thames Water to the Royal Parks – not to mention organisations invested in the city’s social fabric, the charities providing services, the foundations, the major cultural and artistic institutions and the clutch of world class universities. It is a lot. 

The upside of all this is there is an extraordinarily large and heterodox number of organisations and individuals who have an interest in London’s success. They form a deep well of knowledge and influence that makes London what it is. Sometimes London’s institutions need a bit of coaxing to see the bigger picture rather than just their own furrow. But mostly we find engaged organisations that instinctively understand that working on London’s problems together is the best thing to do. That’s why we are so proud that a typical Centre for London project attracts support from a range of organisations – perhaps a borough or two, a major business, a philanthropist, a trust or foundation – whose coming together represents the city in miniature. Funders don’t just bring their much-needed cash, but their expertise, powers and perspectives. 

London’s unique challenges  

The scale of London’s social challenges compared to other UK regions is overlooked at the national level. London consistently ranks among the regions with the highest poverty rates in the UK and a range of chronic problems from housing to pollution. 

As a fundraiser, telling this story whilst also reminding funders of London’s economic and cultural importance is a difficult line to tread. But we must face the fact that London’s success can shroud and even contribute to London’s problems. That London is such a successful city is sometimes precisely why Londoners need more support. Sympathetic funders understand all this, but some avoid the capital due to a sense that other places have bigger problems. I think that is a mistake.  

London and the UK 

The UK is the sixthlargest economy in the world, but London consistently competes only with New York in global city rankings. This brings massive benefits to the country, especially in terms of our soft or cultural power, and ability to attract inward investment.  

But it can mean London has something of an image problem in the country. It can be seen as separate. This isn’t the case. London may have many unique features, but Londoners face the same challenges and concerns that people across the country do, whether they were born here or moved here from another part of the country or the world. And if London can tackle its biggest problems – the cost and availability of housing, living standards, transport, pollution, safety – it will be a more welcoming place not just for those who live here, but for everyone. 

Ultimately, I am proud to have worked at Centre for London because I believe London can be a brilliant engine of opportunity for people all over the country and around the world. I look forward to following Centre for London as it continues its work to make London better for everyone.   

Max Goldman is Head of Development at Centre for London.