Sir Peter Vardy and his wife Lady Margaret were honoured with a Beacon Award for Philanthropy at a ceremony in London which recognised “extraordinary and transformational” individuals who “have brought about lasting social change through conviction, determination and generosity”.
Following his successful sponsorship of academies and his programme for helping men leaving prison, the accolade in particular recognised Sir Peter’s growing Safe Families for Children (Safe Families) initiative, which was launched in the North East and is about to rolled out to five other regions across the UK.
Safe Families is based on a highly successful initiative started in Chicago and provides early intervention for struggling families with the help of army of volunteers.
Sir Peter, who has invested £2m from the Vardy Foundation to establish the programme, said: “A well functioning society starts with the family, but often parents find themselves overwhelmed. We know what the challenges are, and we also know there are people out there who want to help but don’t know how.
“Safe Families brings the two together as a first port of call. It allows strangers to do what they would for a friend, offering simple acts of kindness that make all the difference in stopping problems escalating.”
Following interest from Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith, Safe Families has attracted £2m from the Department for Education’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Fund to expand its public social partnership initiative into Merseyside, Greater Manchester, East and West Midlands and the Solent area.
Local authorities are confident that by joining forces with Safe Families, thousands of children will be kept out of the care system through early intervention by Safe Families for Children’s qualified social workers and its volunteers who befriend families, act as mentors and open up their homes as temporary safe havens.
It is anticipated that the programme will save millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money and that more families will be able to stay together once their parents are given space and time to address their problems.
Sir Peter, a committed Christian, added: “Clearly there is a lot of public money to be saved here, but the value to families and society at large is much greater. No one wants to see young children going into care if it can be avoided because, for all too many, it is the start of a journey into offending and a life destroyed.”
He added: “My parents were very active in social action. It is in the family DNA. I have enjoyed a period of success in business and now for the remainder of my life my aim is to have a period of significance.”
The Beacon Award ceremony was hosted by Kate Adie at JP Morgan Private Bank in London, with speakers including Sir Roger Gifford, former Lord Mayor of the City of London.
Gay Huey Evans, chair of the Beacon Awards, which are managed by UK Community Foundations, said the winners were “exceptional people who have given time, expertise and financial resources to help people and communities prosper in difficult times”.