Littlewoods heir’s philanthropy to end after 50 years

Through his charitable foundation Peter Moores has given £215m to a wide range of projects, from arts to education

One of the UK’s most active philanthropists, the Littlewoods heir Sir Peter Moores, is calling time on his charitable foundation after 50 years during which time he has given more than £215m to the arts, education and health.

His money has particularly benefited opera and the visual arts, and to mark the end there will be a swansong project involving eight of the opera companies with which the foundation has been most closely associated over the decades.

Moores, aged 80, said he was spending what was left in the ways he wanted it to be used. He did not want to continue the fund after his death. “You can’t trust anyone to do what you would have wanted because if they’re any good, and you wouldn’t use someone who wasn’t any good … they’ll have their own ideas.”

The announcement comes as the debate over public versus private funding of the arts is at its height. Many in the arts fear that the government is planning more cuts to what is widely regarded as a British success story, with the culture secretary Maria Miller telling arts organisations they need to be better at asking for private cash.

Does Moores think arts organisations could do better? “I don’t know – I don’t watch fundraising. I think there is a great case for a lot more personal giving, I don’t think people realise quite how constructive you can be if you set about it systematically, whatever your budget is.”

Moores started giving money to young singers around 1958 and recalls working at Glyndebourne – organising taxis and buses – and offering to help Joan Sutherland. “I’d read about her coloratura training so I went to her dressing room and said, ‘Could I give you some money to get the training you want?’ She said, ‘Of course you can!’ I helped her for two or three years until she said, ‘I think I’ve got enough now’.”

In 1964, seeing that he would get a significant share of the Littlewoods retail and pools empire, he decided to set up the foundation. “I thought I’m going to have enough for myself so why not put this somewhere it is going to do some good.”

He said the fund was in the process of using up its capital and it will vacate its London office in about two weeks. It will not officially end until April 2014, 50 years after Moores set it up.

It will support projects including Birmingham Opera creating a site-specific production of Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina in 2014; Opera North staging Verdi’s Otello for the first time in its history; Scottish Opera celebrating Wagner’s bicentenary with a new production of Der fliegende Hollander; the Royal Opera’s UK premiere of George Benjamin’s Written on Skin and Glyndebourne’s staging of Donizetti’s Poliuto in 2015. The other projects are for English Touring Opera, Welsh National Opera and English National Opera.

Moores said: “We want our Swansong to encourage other younger, would-be or active philanthropists and charities to take up the baton.”

Moores said the foundation had always looked in to “how they run their business, how they run their charity” when deciding who to give money to. “If we think they’re doing things well and they’re not going to sink or blow up then we give them some, and more the next year and we see how we’re going. Did they do what they said they said they would? Quite often people want money off you for something and it never happens.”

Moores said the foundation had always been hands-on, initiating ideas rather than waiting for requests which would just need rubber stamping. “My aim has been to open doors of opportunity – but not to mollycoddle.”

Although the foundation will end, the art gallery he founded at Compton Verney in Warwickshire, will continue with the foundation providing it with a basic endowment on which it can build financial support.

Over the years the foundation has helped with a wide range of projects, from the establishment of a slave trade gallery in Liverpool, to bursaries and scholarships for young singers, to championing the work of Opera Rara record label. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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