Fund Focus: The Mohn Westlake Foundation (Part 1)


The Mohn Westlake Foundation was established in 2016…

…by Marit Mohn and her son Stian Westlake following the sale of their stake in their family ship-pump manufacturing company, Frank Mohn AS of Norway. The Mohns are well known among Norwegians for their philanthropic activity which also extends to other countries, including the UK, where they both now live and work.

Their other charitable endeavours include projects supporting education, healthcare and community development- a London housing association, a legal centre charity, a South African charity helping children leaving care, and a Norwegian research foundation.

The Foundation’s aims are to try and make a difference to the lives of  young people by giving them opportunities they would otherwise not have had, through education, performing arts or other activities.

Its other objectives are to promote data transparency, increase access to impartial information, and the collection and analysis of useful data, which they consider are all important foundations of a good society.

In 2019 The Foundation expressed a desire to work with Community Foundations to distribute funds throughout the UK, so enlisted the help of UKCF.

UKCF are the membership organisation for the 46 accredited Community Foundations across the UK, which have together given out over £1 billion in grants to charities, community groups and individuals. Community Foundations are collectively one of the leading distributors of charitable funds in the UK and are unique because each individual ‘branch’ has a very strong insight into, and relationship with its local communities.

Devon Community Foundation submitted a bid to UKCF to be included in a pilot round of funding from the Mohn Westlake Foundation.

Our proposal set out plans to work with experienced organisations working with young people who have mental ill-health, particularly those for whom statutory services have proved either inaccessible or ineffective. These organisations will use methods outside the standard medical approach to engage and work with young people, that could include developing trusting relationships or that focus on practical problem solving – both responses that have proven to build resilience in young people who have been affected by trauma in childhood.

Young people’s mental health is a significant concern in Devon.

In April 2018 alone, there were nearly 8000 referrals open with CAMHS* in Devon County & Torbay, an increase of 8% on the previous year.

Around 780 under 18-year-olds are referred every month.

Referrals for eating disorders have increased by a third.

Around one in ten children in Devon are estimated to have a mental health disorder.

The South West has higher-than-average levels of emotional disorder, especially anxiety, and especially in boys.

*CAMHS – Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services

As well as providing grants for these groups to be able to carry out a year’s worth of work in this area, our outline stated that we wanted to work closely with them to build a body of evidence and learning. This would not only help the groups themselves to grow but that together with research and insight provided by our Knowledge Guru, Nicola, could also inform and support this area more widely.

In December 2019 we learned that we were one of five successful Community Foundations to receive funding and were awarded £45K to deliver our programme.

Before Christmas 2019, we invited local organisations who met all the objectives of our proposal and wanted to take part to approach us.

We received 32 expressions of interest that, in early January 2020, we followed up with 32 telephone conversations in order to conduct informal interviews for shortlisting.

Because this programme is outside our usual grant-making process, it allowed us to work with our applicants in a way that was more sympathetic to them and the needs of the programme – including some very tight time constraints. Talking to applicants by phone saved time and allowed us to ask more specific questions.

Our Project Co-ordinator Sally says

“I really enjoyed it. It brought the projects to life and I gained a real insight into how well they knew and understood the work. We could make a decision early on if the fund wasn’t the best for them so it didn’t waste their time, yet it allowed us to pursue an idea and dig deeper if we thought we were onto something. Being able to reassure applicants and give them a sounding board meant they appreciated the feeling that we were interested.”

One applicant, who we later contacted to say hadn’t been successful, responded by saying

“What a refreshing way to apply for funding.”

Seven applicants were shortlisted and invited to complete a written application to be considered by our panel later that month.

The panel was made up of two of Devon Community Foundation’s current donors who each have a particular interest in and experience of funding for mental health services and young people. We also included two internal members, including Sally, who had the insight of having talked to the applicants first-hand.

On the 22nd January four applicants were selected to receive funding by a unanimous decision of the panel and given the good news.

At Devon Community Foundation we try to support the groups that apply to us with more than just funding. It was discussed, to some degree, how DCF could support the groups that weren’t successful on this occasion in other ways.

The feedback to these groups has included the suggestion of being put forward to other, more fitting funds within our portfolio.

One group from this process in particular, when talked to early on, rang so true with an existing fund of ours that we have matched them for funding from it. Their work, although focussed on a very specialised area of young people, is also aligned with the Mohn Westlake Foundation objectives, so they will join the learning element of the programme, providing, essentially a match funding opportunity that has enabled us to increase our participants.

What next?

  • On the 24th February 2020 the groups involved in our Mohn Westlake Programme will have signed their grant agreements, been paid and be ready to start work!
  • Watch this space to find out who they are and how they’re helping young people in Devon with their mental health.

We’re very grateful to the Devon Ripple Fund that has enabled us to pave the way for working in this very bespoke manner.

In early 2019 one of our existing donors agreed to increase their fund to allow us to work more freely and collaboratively, in a similar vein to this one, with a handful of organisations but over three years.

Having just embarked on year two of the project we have learned much about relationships with our groups, how they work, the statutory services that they bolster and relationships there too, how our research can help them, how collectively they can support and inform their area of work and how we, as an organisation, can support them to do so.

Without the belief and support of our donors we wouldn’t be able to do this ground-breaking work in our area, work that we hope can be a catalyst for change and improvement for all our communities.