The story behind the BirdLife International Community Fund starts in the second half of the nineteenth century when the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company was a major shipbuilder on the Thames in East London. It built many ships for the Royal Navy including HMS Warrior, the world’s first iron hulled warship. It was a major employer in East London and had a philanthropic owner, Arnold Hills, who prided himself on being a good employer and looking after his workforce.
In 1895, Arnold Hills charged his “HR Manager”, James William Cearns, with the responsibility of establishing a works football team for the men. This was called Thames Ironworks Football Club. The football club thrived, soon turned professional, and was incorporated as a limited company under the name of West Ham United Football Club in 1900. Local businessmen, including the Hills and Cearns family subscribed the share capital.
For most of the twentieth century, West Ham was first and foremost a community activity – a football team for the people of East London – and generations of the Cearns family served the East London community in a voluntary capacity as directors of West Ham United. West Ham established itself as one of England’s leading football clubs, playing in the top echelons of English professional football and winning the prestigious FA Cup three times.
In 1984, Sarah Gordon [nee Cearns], great granddaughter of James William Cearns , and her husband David boarded an Air New Zealand aircraft at London’s Gatwick Airport for what was to be a once in a lifetime visit to New Zealand. David has been interested in birds since the age of 11. An accountant by profession he was at one time Finance Director of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in England and a trustee of BirdLife International.
They joined Forest & Bird and became familiar with the threats facing New Zealand’s precious wildlife and the urgency of the conservation task. They rapidly fell in love with New Zealand and have become regular visitors.
In November 2006, West Ham United was the subject of a takeover bid. Some of the shares subscribed for by James William Cearns in 1900 had been passed down the generations and Sarah and David found themselves with decorative share certificates that suddenly had a value.
‘The money from the sale of the shares put us in the position of being able to support causes in which we believe with New Zealand wildlife being top of that list,” Sarah explains. “We particularly want to support community conservation projects in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. As we have travelled in New Zealand over the years we have been enthused by some of the wonderful projects around the country where local people have got together to conserve their local wildlife. And we have so much appreciated the warmth with which New Zealanders have welcomed us and shared their wildlife experiences with us. Now we have the opportunity to ‘put something back’ into a country that has given us so much pleasure. We hope that this funding will encourage and empower communities to start new projects or to build on existing projects. The outcome being a gain for conservation, plus hopefully a lot of fun for all concerned.”
Forest & Bird has established the BirdLife International Community Fund to support the conservation of native birds and the natural environment in New Zealand and the South Pacific, through locally managed community projects, funded by the donations made by Sarah and David.
Totalling approximately $125,000 each year, it is hoped the fund will attract additional donors in the coming years so that it can grow.
Applications for the BirdLife Community Fund are now being sought, if you wish to apply for the fund, click here