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Revitalising the drinks industry charity

David Cox, chief executive of The Benevolent, talks to Felicity Murray about his vision for the future of the charity

David Cox The Benevolent

David Cox has been in the drinks trade for around 30 years and is the great, great grandson of Matthew Clark, founder of the national drinks wholesaler of the same name. He started his career in the drinks industry with Matthew Clark before moving on to Brown-Forman and New Zealand Winegrowers, while his twin brother was running Wines of Chile.

Almost three years ago, David left New Zealand Winegrowers and was approached by the Trustees of The Benevolent drinks charity to become chief executive, which he describes as: “A sort of end of career role for me.” The charity was set up in 1886 and some members of David’s family have been involved with the Benevolent since the 1920s. His aim was to revitalise the charity and re-establish its connection with the trade.

The Benevolent already had a great team doing brilliant work, but when David did a straw-poll among all sectors of the trade to find out if people know what the charity does, what is stands for, what great work the team does, he was surprised and disappointed by the answers. He says, “I thought there’s an opportunity to perhaps move the needle a little bit in terms of what the charity does and how it’s seen; after two years, that seems to be working.”

David explains: “We did some focus groups and found there are three major myths about what the Benevolent is all about… Is it just for retired people? The answer is no. Is it to deal with alcohol misuse? The answer is not specifically and some even mistake it for Drinkaware. Thirdly, is it just for the wine trade (as it used to be called the Wine and Spirits Trade Benevolent Society)? Even then it was quite wine orientated, so did it really cover people who worked in beer and other drinks logistics? The answer is yes. So, it’s a very vibrant charity, it’s very current, it’s very relevant and it’s for anyone in all sectors of the trade.”

The Benevolent team can help on a financial, emotional and practical level and is equipped to offer support with bereavement, loneliness, stress, illness and money issues. About a year ago, the charity launched the ‘Here to Help’ campaign, “We have developed easily digestible sound‑bites of what we do, who we help and why we exist and we have done that both digitally and in printed formats. So, if I were a small draught beer producer or English winery, or I was a big part of Diageo, the Benevolent can communicate with me through something as easy as an email template or an intranet button or banner; It will say, ‘This is what the Benevolent does… This is how you can turn to them.’” With a network of welfare officers working across the country and looking at individual cases, people in need are referred to organisations or charities that can offer specialist help and advice. The charity helps around 700 people per year on an ongoing basis, and has the resources to double that as they look to spreading the message in the beer sector were it is less well known.

The Benevolent receives funding from a number of sources which includes some investment income from properties they have sold. However, the charity’s most reliable source is the donations received through corporate partnerships with around 80 companies. David claims: “You only have to look at the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, they have got 340 members and I have got 80 that are my corporate partners; and I have got a scheme where I ask them to just be a partner and give us an annual donation, it can be as low as £500, some of our platinum members give us £15,000 to £17,000… I have been amazed at how generous some of these people are.” David ‘s team also raises money through hosting events and approaching companies to hold fundraisers for The Benevolent cause.

To raise awareness, David often draws on case studies to show how the charity can help: “We had a case recently of a lady who worked freelance at these sort of events, helping spirits and wine companies do tasting events. She had a fall, broke her collarbone and couldn’t work for about six months. We were asked if we could help her out and so we paid a couple of month’s rent just to get her out of a bit of a problem. She said, ‘It’s not that The Benevolent can help clear your debts or anything, but I just happened to turn to them and they were happy to get me out of a little short‑term hole because I hadn’t taken insurance and no one else was able to help me out.’”


8 June 2015