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Obituary: Patrick Coldstream

by
08 March 2024

Sir Stephen O’Brien writes:

VISIONARIES don’t often seem to come from such conventional starting points as Patrick. His father served in the Indian Army, and, as a young child, Patrick was sent home to boarding school in preparation for Bradfield, Oxford, and a National Service commission in the Royal Marines.

Demobilisation led to an appointment as university liaison officer at the National Association of Boys’ Clubs and an investigation of the prison system through extended visiting. These experiences were signposts towards his future career, but, on the way, he was rejected by the civil service, instead joining the staff of the Financial Times. This was a formative period: his assignments included interviewing all the Beatles together and being appointed to write a fortnightly column on the new “science” of management.

From here, it was a relatively short step to being recruited by Morgan Grenfell. Morgan’s was the crème de la crème of investment banking, and, while working there, but not feeling fully stretched intellectually, Patrick joined the Industrial Christian Fellowship. He began to question the narrow understanding of the purpose of business. It was often expressed in those days as being solely to “increase earnings per share”. This didn’t seem to square with his previous experience of the public-school settlements in east London or what he had learned about life in prison.

Surprisingly, he decided to accept an invitation to join the money brokers Charles Fulton as finance director. This was a totally different world, in which the majority of the young staff were looked down upon as “barrow boys” by the investment-banking world. He was attracted, though, by the plans of the board: they were trying to add a sense of social purpose to their otherwise mundane world of linking bankers in London, and then around the world, to execute financial transactions between one another.

Patrick came up with the, then, rather revolutionary thought that it was in the direct interest of shareholders to work for a more settled and prosperous society, arguing that this would then enable companies to sell more of whatever they made to that community.

The ideas developed quickly, and Patrick, with his friend, David Rowland, who was later to become chairman of Lloyds of London, and a handful of others, were laying the seeds of modern corporate social responsibility.

Meanwhile, the serious rundown of employment in the early eighties in the traditional heavy industries of coal, steel, and shipbuilding was causing a heavy strain on the UK economy, and unemployment was rising fast. So, too, was unrest in many inner-city areas. Unrest and rioting in Brixton sent a shudder though boardrooms, and some companies were attacked for their bad record on hiring local staff. On the other hand, Marks & Spencer were left untouched by rioting youngsters because they were known to recruit locally and specifically from the black community.

These disturbances followed on from Windrush and the arrival of families from the Caribbean and the old Empire, who were kept out of meaningful work by a combination of lack of training and racial discrimination. All this had been fanned by the infamous “rivers of blood” speech by the Conservative minister Enoch Powell. The board of Charles Fulton decided to try to reverse the trend and, after much thought and consultation, decided to start what we would now call a social enterprise: Project Fullemploy.

Fullemploy was an alliance between the private and public sectors, led by business, to provide high-quality training and, it was hoped, to redress the past exclusiveness. The purpose was “to bring those on the margins into the centre”, as Patrick himself put it. It expanded rapidly throughout England, and soon ran high-quality training schemes led by employers in 20 city centres. At its height, it was training thousands of youngsters, and played a key part in showing employers that they were starving themselves of real assets if they failed to recruit from these depressed communities.

It also pioneered what became known as life-skills training, which played an important part in the process. The concept was developed among the indigenous people of Northern Canada, and was adapted by Fullemploy to become a standard part of employability training in the UK.

Patrick’s idea of a full-page prospectus in the Financial Times raised funds for this work and brought Fullemploy to wider attention — and signified the beginning of modern corporate social responsibility. It wasn’t long before corporate annual reports were considered incomplete without a fulsome description of the “good works”’ of the company.

Patrick began to think through the concept of partnership. He realised that neither employers, government, nor third-sector organisations could really move society on their own. It could be achieved only in Partnership between all three. This sounds obvious now, but it was Patrick Coldstream who developed and led the argument.

Next, Patrick applied his learning from Fullemploy to another key issue: the relationship between the university sector and business. The former Conservative Cabinet minister Jim Prior had just taken on the chair of the new Council for Higher Education and Business. Patrick provided the real leadership by refining the objectives and strategy of the new organisation, renamed the Council for Industry and Higher Education, and persuading business leaders that this was a key issue that needed their personal engagement and leadership, as well as their money. This was visionary work, connecting and explaining to universities and other higher-education bodies the imperative need for a totally cohesive way forwards.

Among those who heard and bought into this argument were several leaders in the Church of England. David Sheppard, Bishop of Liverpool, had set up an inquiry into current unemployment, its causes, and possible solutions. Patrick was asked to chair it, which he did, and the ensuing report was well received and broadly welcomed.

It was for his work for the Council that he was appointed CBE in 1993.

Patrick moved on to be a trustee of the Church Urban Fund as it strug­­gled to divert resources into the poorer parishes in the country, and then to his final appointment as chair of the trustees of Hymns Ancient & Modern, which, in turn, owns the Church Times.

Patrick never moved far from his interest in business, journalism, the Church, and those whom he thought of as less privileged than himself. He was utterly modest, never claiming any achievement or success for himself. He was the epitome of decency and caring, loved poetry and music and his family, and, in a very quiet way, changed our society for the better.

Patrick was appointed CBE in 1993 for his work for the Council for Industry and Higher Education.

He died on 28 January, aged 89, and is survived by his wife, Janet, and his three sons, Justin, Bene’t, and Sheridan.

Paul Handley adds: When Patrick Coldstream joined the council of Hymns Ancient & Modern, it was soon clear that he was a worthy successor to its then chair, Professor Henry Chadwick — clear to all but Patrick himself, who described himself as “a doubtfully adequate choice”.

It was a typical remark from someone who revealed his experience only when he felt it would be helpful, and then only very diffidently. All the Church Times staff benefited from having a former journalist as chair, but his knowledge of the trade was expressed in support, praise, and sympathy, never criticism. Similarly, although he professed to be an amateur, he was delighted to be one of the editorial team who oversaw the compilation of Common Praise, the edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern published in 2000 and renamed to complement the then new liturgy of the Church of England.

His enduring love of hymns meant that he none the less took great delight in a successor volume, Ancient and Modern: Hymns and songs for refreshing worship, and twice wrote to its publisher, Christine Smith, to say what a wonderful collection it was, most recently in March last year after a hymnathon in his local church, in which the choir, directed by one of his sons, sang 75 of its hymns, many suggested by Patrick. (This was the church where he held Sunday-school children spellbound with his storytelling.)

On more general religious publishing, Patrick continued in his belief that something useful could also be commercially successful, encouraging the hunt for titles that would be the equivalent of “nursing manuals” — always in demand and able to be reissued regularly. If pushed, however, he would favour usefulness over commercial success.

Despite, or perhaps because of this, he presided over a period of expansion of the charity, which included the forging of a partnership with Church House Publishing and the acquisition of the Church House Bookshop. He visited the latter frequently for a chat over coffee, even travelling to the Greenbelt Festival one year to see the scale of the bookshop’s operations there.

All the staff from his time in the HA&M group speak of his kindness, generosity, and curiosity. He used his breadth of knowledge to ask perceptive questions, and none was more delighted or quick to celebrate any success than he. This continued in correspondence till the end. A final note, sent in response to the suggestion of a lunch to celebrate the publication of The Revised English Hymnal, was characteristic: “Yes, yes, yes.”

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