Plymouth's Philanthropist

PUBLISHED: 12:23 22 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:20 20 February 2013

Plymouth's Philanthropist

Plymouth's Philanthropist

Secret Millionaire Marcelle Speller tells Anna Turns about her <br/><br/>revolutionary new way to donate to small local charities

Dotcom entrepreneur Marcelle Speller is not a flash lady, but when she recently took part in Channel 4s Secret Millionaire she gave 90k away to five Plymouth charities. I wanted to raise the profile of philanthropy and encourage other people that you can make a difference doing something worthwhile and enjoy doing so at the same time. Nowadays especially, philanthropists are much needed.

Marcelle explains that the problems in Plymouth are a microcosm of what else is happening across the UK. From youth unemployment to drug-related crime, problems are rife throughout society. It is crucial to work from the bottom up rather than top-down.

Marcelle, 60, founded in 1996 and made her fortune when she sold up nine years later. Once she cleared her mortgage, she was keen to find a meaningful and worthwhile way of spending her wealth. The turning point came when she studied at the Institute of Philanthropy in London, which educates donors on how they can use their wealth strategically to have a greater positive impact.

A philanthropist can take risks with their own money which charities cannot do, whilst getting brilliant satisfaction. Going to the Institute of Philanthropy was a fabulous experience that changed my life.

As a result, in 2008 Marcelle set up the not-for-profit, the UKs first online giving website dedicated to helping small charities and local community organisations.

It has totally taken over my life but I want to give it 120% while I build it up. 85% of charitable donations only go to the top 5% of charities, so small organisations often dont get a look-in. Plus online donations are increasing by 50% each year and it is the big guys with web presence that dominate, says Marcelle.

After working hard for three years on from her base in London, Marcelle realised the importance of keeping in touch with reality. I had got a bit distant and felt quite detached. Because once you are known as a donor, it is quite difficult to go in anonymously and find out what is really going on, says Marcelle. So Secret Millionaire was a great opportunity. I was shaking buckets for Jeremiahs Journey, weeding the broad beans at Diggin It and serving the lunches in the over-50s club. It really gave me a connection back and reaffirmation that really can help.

Having never been to Plymouth before, Marcelles first impressions of Plymouth were not great. Initially I didnt see evidence of a thriving community there was something lacking. But when you stay a bit longer and get to know people, you realise that there are special people like Glynis, the lady who runs Devonports Welcome Hall.

Marcelle now regularly returns to Plymouth and loves the city and its people. I remember looking at those huge blocks of flats thinking: half the people are sitting in those little boxes lonely and bored, and the other half are single parents with three kids going crazy with too much to do. These big tower blocks have forced people into these little boxes where they dont mix. Marcelles mission is to help reconnect people, so that the lonely person can help the frantic single mum down the corridor.

At the other extreme, rural communities can be spread out and isolating, with often complex social patterns in villages where support networks may not be very apparent. The hidden nature of deprivation and of these extraordinary people are two sides of the same coin, but neither should be hidden, says Martha Wilkinson from Devon Community Foundation who works closely with Marcelle. We couldnt do without the Community Foundation Network which vets each project. explains Marcelle, as they represent 40,000 UK charities who can potentially use as a platform.

The hidden nature of deprivation and of these extraordinary people are two sides of the same coin, but neither should be hidden

Martha Wilkinson explains the massive benefit of Marcelles new website. Registering as a charity is a complex process, but if you are not a registered charity you cant claim gift aid or have a web presence with some of the other donation sites. Small charities cant afford a website, but with members of the public can easily find community projects local to them.

For The Secret Millionaire programme, Marcelle posed as a recently retired woman moving to Plymouth and looking for volunteer work. I fell in love with every one of the charities I went to, she says.
One of the projects Marcelle visited was Digging It, an organic gardening project managed by Routeways Centre Ltd. This experience showed Marcelle just how therapeutic gardening can be. When one of the participants, Matt, first arrived at Diggin It, he could hardly speak he had such a bad stammer. He was a sailor with post-traumatic stress disorder, but he was just such a lovely guy and his transformation was incredible. Marcelle donated 40k to Diggin It and explains that we transformed it with social enterprise status so that it could be more commercial by selling vegetables and raising profile to get more volunteers.

The problems in Plymouth are a microcosm of what else is happening across the UK

Marcelle also donated funds to community groups, from the over-50s lunch club to craft clubs for children with learning difficulties run by Glynis at Devonports Welcome Hall. Plymouth-based Horizons, a sailing charity for disadvantaged and disabled children, also benefited, as well as Friends and Families of Special Children, which provides support and respite day trips for young children and carers whose siblings have special needs.

Joanne Anning, who runs Jeremiahs Journey, which provides support for bereaved children, says Marcelles cheque of 20k was a complete and utter shock, but a lovely surprise! The charity has used the money to fund a part-time clinical psychologist and to fund Stepping Stones, which supports young people with a terminally ill parent.
Marcelle certainly had no intention of giving away cheques then abandoning ship.

I wanted to continue to support them and for them to be ambassadors for The key to helping charitable projects is making them sustainable in the long-term. This is exactly what my website is all about because charities need more ongoing support from their communities.

As Joanne Anning explains, is an amazing idea, because it makes it easy for people to donate and also it means that charities of all sizes can compete on a level playing field. So, above all, it is the people who most need the funds who will directly benefit.

11 February Launch
Masterchef Peter Gorton and stage the I love my local community lunch event at Marjon University College Plymouth. Marcelle Speller and charity volunteers will take part in a cook-off with Peter, whipping up a tasty lunch using local food. Contact 01884 235887 or

Latest from the Devon Life