The William Grant Foundation and the Sponsorship of Piping

By Robert Wallace
By Robert Wallace

It was reassuring to see Mr Nick Addington, Chief Executive of the William Grant Foundation, the sponsor,  present the prizes at the weekend’s Glenfiddich Championship at Blair Castle. I am sure he would have been impressed by the organisation and the general enthusiasm for the old competition now in its 42nd year, and he will have seen at first hand where the money he disburses on behalf of the Foundation goes and the good use to which it is put. 

The cuts in funding announced by the Foundation earlier this year were of concern to us all however. Whilst the Glenfiddich gravy train has not hit the buffers, there can be no doubt that it will be calling at a few less piping stations over the next while – and with less financial cargo to deliver.

I have asked twice for an interview with Mr Addington to try establish the facts and future of the Foundation’s policy in the coming months and years. He has respectfully and politely declined and this I can understand. However we have a duty to keep everyone abreast of developments and from what I have gathered indirectly it would seem that there is to be an across the board cut in funding of piping amounting to between 20 – 25%. Each of the recipients of the Foundation’s sponsorship cash has been notified with some put on a sliding scale of reduction. (One rumour is that one main event will get £15,000 this year, £5,000 less than in 2015, and £10,000 next.) 

One must assume that all ‘Glenfiddich’ solo contests, the Argyllshire Gathering Senior Piobaireachd, the London Championship, the Silver Chanter, the John MacLellan Memorial, the Masters Piping will henceforth have to make do with less. Even with these cuts (assuming our figures are correct), piping will still remain the biggest single beneficiary of the Foundation’s cultural sponsorship. On current figures the WGF will be putting circa £145,000 into piping (down from £180,000). We would remain three times better sponsored by the Foundation than our nearest rivals, the National Museums of Scotland who get circa £50,000 in support. 

‘As a family-owned business founded in 1887, William Grant & Sons ……. has long given to a wide range of non-profit and charitable organisations and projects across Scotland and remains committed to donating 1% of pre-tax profits each year to charitable causes.

‘Our family shareholders established the William Grant Foundation in 2014 as a non-profit association to oversee and direct our donations. The William Grant Foundation is committed to a future where everyone in Scotland has the opportunity to thrive….

‘The Foundation aims to:
• Ensure greater opportunities for those who are disadvantaged
• Strengthen the local communities in which the company operates 
• Improve Scotland’s natural and built environment
• Sustain the unique culture and heritage of Scotland’

Hitherto the William Grant Foundation has funnelled all its money for piping through the National Piping Centre in Glasgow. Last figures available (2015) show that they gave the Centre £145,000 to disburse on the their behalf to piping competitions and £35,000 to the Piping Live Festival. I hear that the Centre, not surprisingly, is anxious to continue in this role but I am not sure that it is the best arrangement we could have. For one charitable body to hand all its piping cash to another, one with a considerable commercial and political piping interest, may not be the best conduit by which the WGF fulfils the duties outlined in its charter. I am unclear too about the position the Office of Scottish Charities Register (OSCR) takes on this but before we go any further let me make it absolutely clear that I am not for one minute suggesting any malfeasance on anyone’s part; far from it.

Diagram showing the Foundation's cash for piping vis-a-vis other beneficiaries
Diagram showing the Foundation’s cash for piping vis-a-vis other beneficiaries

There are practical issues to consider. Under the present arrangements what do I do if I want to apply for support from the Foundation for a new piping and drumming teaching programme among Glasgow’s disadvantaged children? Do I apply to the Piping Centre or to the Foundation? If it is to be the Centre then I think this should be clearly set out in the Foundation’s working practices document.

If not, it should be up to the WGF to determine who enjoys its generosity. To this end would it not be better if the Foundation had a piping advisory committee, a body that could meet once a year to agree on continuous funding and any new one-offs? That committee could and should involve the Centre but also the College of Piping, the Scottish Schools Piping Drumming Trust (SSPDT), maybe the RSPBA, maybe the Army School, maybe the Piobaireachd Society. 

Perhaps OSCR would dictate that it had to be populated with bodies devoid of commercial interest in which case the Piobaireachd Society or the Highland Society of London would surely have a role to play. Either way Mr Addington and his Sub Committee would get a much rounder picture of the piping land they have so kindly fed and watered this past four decades rather than one seen solely through the prism of McPhater Street no matter how fair minded and beneficent that particular prism may be.

Rodedrick MacLeod winner of the 2016 Glenfiddich Championship receives his trophy from Mr Addington
Roderick MacLeod, winner of the 2016 Glenfiddich Championship, receives his trophy from Mr Addington

Mention of the SSPDT reminds me that the WGF are already in discussion with that group in the setting up of tuition in Ayrshire schools. There has been support too for a piobaireachd class in Dumfries. These initiatives are surely something we can all applaud; they fit squarely with the aims and objectives of the Foundation. The Glenfiddich Championship should always remain the jewel in its piping crown with Oban, London and the Silver Chanter next in line. But the grassroots and the middle, less glamorous, ground is where the Foundation can make a real and lasting difference to piping in the years ahead.

Hitherto the bulk of Wm Grant’s money has always been spent on the ‘black tie’ end of the business and I freely admit to having enjoyed their flowing hospitality over the years. These events now need to focus on slimming down their costs and their guest lists as the Foundation sheds its elitist image and emphasis shifts towards helping less fortunate areas of the piping strata. No one can criticise William Grant for insisting that the top end make better and more efficient use of sponsorship cash they receive year after year. And we should all heartily applaud any move to direct more of their money to our deserving young pipers and drummers.