Our heritage

We were established to make a real difference.

Over 100 years ago Joseph Rowntree created us to provide housing in communities and to understand the root causes of social problems.

We will always be driven by our founder’s vision and are constantly working out what this means for our work in the present day.

Joseph Rowntree was a visionary Quaker businessman and social reformer. He built New Earswick, a village in York, for people on low incomes, including staff who worked in his factory, giving them access to decent homes at affordable rents. He was committed to understanding the causes of poverty and disadvantage in order to create a better society. His son, Seebohm Rowntree, was a pioneering social researcher who undertook one of the country’s first investigations into poverty.

The origins of our financial resources lie in a major donation of shares in the original Rowntree Company gifted to us by Joseph Rowntree in 1904. A review in 2020 of publicly available sources regarding the company’s historic global supply chains revealed deeply disturbing practices and evidence that the firm benefited from slavery and forced labour. As former shareholders in the firm we have issued an apology for the deep and enduring harms caused by these shameful practices and are supporting further research into this part of our history.

Other trusts

Joseph Rowntree also founded two other trusts in 1904: the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) and the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd (JRRT).

JRF and JRHT are completely independent of and separate from these trusts.