Blair's 'giving age'? How one bank does it

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The Independent Online
Every employee of the investment bank Goldman Sachs will be given a day off this month to do charity work. Clare Garner joined a group of bankers, including the chairman, Peter Sutherland, at a sports day in south London.

The thank-you card designed by the children read: "Thank U Golden Sacks", and the impromptu play at lunchtime told the story of Mr and Mrs Smith, whose lives were transformed by "a company down the road".

The company in question was not the friendly corner shop, but rather, the multi-billion-dollar investment bank Goldman Sachs. The bankers who normally spend every waking hour slaving for pounds 1m Christmas bonuses had hung up their Savile Row suits and switched off their mobiles for a day. Everyone, from secretary to chairman, was in the grip of a sudden gust of corporate compassion. Instead of buy, buy, buy, it was give, give, give.

To the 10, 11, and 12-year-olds who participated in Goldman Sachs's sports day, it was a PE paradise. For the first time in their lives, they had skipping ropes, hurdles, space hoppers, footballs, basketballs and netball posts, - plus adults who wanted to play with them. "They [the adults] were kind to us," said Abi, nine. "They never shouted at us."

This is, perhaps, more of a compliment than it sounds. Many of these children suffer routine abuse, neglect and violence at the hands of adults and, were it not for Kid's Company, the Southwark-based charity which hosted the sports day, they might well give up.

Their teachers were astounded - not so much by the range of games and quality of equipment, but by the change in their behaviour. "The kids are responding so well," said Robbie Devlin, a fifth form teacher. "Darren has been refusing to come to class lately. Today, he's like a different boy. I'd say this has been a revolutionary experience for these children - to discover that there are adults that are interested in them."

The screams of exhilaration in Burgess Park adventure playground in Southwark, could be heard from some distance. On drawing closer, it became clear the bankers were making as much noise as the children. They willed their team to win and ran for their life - as if their next multi-billion deal depended on the outcome of the egg-and-spoon race.

There were six teams and each team member wore a T-shirt with a letter from the word "United" on it. On their backs was a word: "U" stood for "Understanding", "N" for "Nation", "I" for "International", "T" for "Trust", "E" for "Equal" and "D" for "Determination".

Goldman Sachs has not sought publicity for its charity work. A spokesman said that the scheme was dual-purpose: to give something back to communities and cement the company's strong team spirit, and added: "We are not unique in doing this." But what is unique is the scheme's global scale. Seven thousand five hundred of the bank's 10,000 world-wide staff have signed up for a day's charity work this month. There are 1,250 volunteers from the London office alone.

One young investment banker, who was practising his golf swing in the courtyard, said he was glad of the opportunity. "My work is quite intense, with long hours and a lot of travelling ... You lose focus on things like this. It's good to get a proper balance on reality because, as you know, the City isn't always the most real place."

Donations to Kid's Company can be sent to: 40 Barforth Road, Nunhead, London, SE15 3PS.