Living Paintings: Our 24-year journey with Charity Bank

Mar 03, 2021

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For more than 30 years, Living Paintings has been helping to bring art and stories to life for blind people. And for most of that time, Charity Bank has been by its side. Here, Chief Executive Camilla Oldland tells us about her journey with Charity Bank.

Back in 1995, Living Paintings was offered a grant to buy some premises, but only if I could get match funding. I was having no luck finding the money, but then I came across a small financial provider called Investors in Society. We discussed it and they offered me an ethical loan. Helpfully, they organised the repayments based on what we were already paying in rent, so I knew I could afford it.

Investors in Society was the pilot fund that later became Charity Bank. Living Paintings was one of its first loan recipients, and it was our first loan provider, so Charity Bank really did help to make our dream a reality.

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Tactile books at Living Paintings

We paid that first loan off in seven years. As we were nearing the completion date, we were given the opportunity to buy the unit next door. The charity had grown considerably and we really needed to double our work space, so it came at the perfect time. We approached a grant maker, who again offered to give us a grant if we could get match funding. So we took out a second loan with Charity Bank.

We did our research first of course. I looked into other high street banks and other ethical lenders. But we had such a positive relationship with Charity Bank and it offered us a very competitive package, so going back was a no brainer.

In November 2020, I paid off our second loan with the bank, bringing our relationship to an end. Making that final loan payment felt a bit strange. To be honest, I feel like a teenager moving away from the family home; it’s a bit scary to be leaving!

"Charity Bank has been more than just a financial provider all these years; the relationship has always felt so supportive. For the last 24 years, I’ve always had a person on the end of the phone I could talk to. And I genuinely looked forward to our annual review as I knew my relationship manager would be interested in Living Paintings’ work and our achievements. We’d sit down together and take a walk through the past year. They’d be interested in what new books we’d published and any new projects we’d set up. It feels rather like I have just let go of a dear old friend."

- Camilla Oldland, Chief Executive, Living Paintings

That friendly relationship has been so important over the years. The support we’ve received has been fantastic – through thick and thin. And we’ve seen some thin in those 24 years. We’ve been through a few recessions together, but Charity Bank always wanted to help us solve any problems. They always came at it from a positive angle. I never felt under pressure. It was a case of “What can we do to help?” rather than “You’ve failed.”

Between them, the two loans released £120,000 in grant funding. And owning our building means we have an asset on the balance sheet, which will be important for future grants. A lot of our funding comes from trusts and foundations, who do want to look at the balance sheet before they commit. Owning our premises shows that we have a strong foundation.

Over the years, we’ve seen other benefits from being with Charity Bank. For a start, they organise networking events. Talking to other charities and sharing knowledge is always a good thing.

I like that we decided to use an ethical lender. I’d always have made the best financial choice for Living Paintings, but knowing that not only was this the right choice for us, it was also helping other charities, well that was absolutely amazing.

And we won an Impact Award from Charity Bank in 2015, which was rather nice!

We don’t have a PR department, so don’t tend to get a lot of national coverage, but we were on Blue Peter in November 2020. How exciting is that! I even got a Blue Peter badge. (I wanted a gold one more than an MBE, but was happy enough to get the blue one). We were also on The One Show not long ago. They wanted to tell a story about charity work through the pandemic, and we’ve remained fully operational, which is pretty extraordinary really.

Before COVID hit, we had a successful events programme. I hope to one day return to that, but in the meantime, we’ve focused on virtual fundraising. One blind boy, a beneficiary, ran a marathon over 26 days for us in the spring. That’s a pretty amazing achievement when you consider that he couldn’t see where his feet were falling. He raised £43,000 for us!

In December, we’re hosting the Big Christmas Read. It’s to encourage people to take on a reading challenge and raise awareness of Living Paintings. Everyone can set their own challenge and ask friends to sponsor them. One person plans to read all of Dickens’ novels. Another man has set himself the challenge of reading to his blind son every day until Christmas. I love that, because so much of what we do is about helping children to engage with stories.

We have some amazing supporters, so have been very lucky throughout the pandemic. We’re even looking at developing new projects. I want to see what more we can do with new tech. How can we use it to deliver that touch experience? We’re always looking to the future; always have something new to aim for. It’s why we have so much momentum. We will continue to grow and develop and change the lives of more blind and partially sighted people. And, of course, if I need a new ethical loan in the future, I’ll come back to Charity Bank!

To find out more about Living Paintings, visit

If you need an ethical loan or want to talk to us about charity loan refinancing, please call us on 01732 441919.

About Charity Bank

Charity Bank is the loans and savings bank owned by and committed to supporting the social sector. Since 2002, we have used our savers’ money to make more than 1,000 loans totalling over £300m to housing, education, social care, community and other social purpose organisations.

Find out more about us here.

Nothing in this article constitutes an invitation to engage in investment activity nor is it advice or a recommendation and professional advice should be taken before any course of action is pursued.