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Background and history

We were established to search out and confront the structural causes of social evils in the UK.

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

We continue to draw inspiration from our founder’s vision while recognising that our work must continually evolve.

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.

We are also committed to looking afresh at our own endowment strategy during 2024, ensuring the approach we take to the wealth we hold aligns with our wider commitment to people and planet.

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.

Find out more about the lifetimes and legacy of the Rowntree family at the Rowntree Society website.