From firm to foundation
7 June 2010 | By Luke McLeod-Roberts
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After you finish work tonight how about heading down to London’s hottest new private members’ lounge?
Having stepped inside a gracious Georgian townhouse that is tucked down a Soho backstreet, you will be able to relax with a cocktail or two and be lulled gently by the conversation of the beautiful people around you. If you get bored by the eyecatching art adorning the walls, you can do a bit of celebrity spotting or instead saunter over to the adjoining restaurant for some pan-fried halibut served with kale and roasted pine nuts.
At this point you are probably mouthing, “I’ve seen it all before”, while simultaneously flicking between the deck shoe and Vikram Yoga apps on your iPad.
But wait, flick back! Based at The House of St Barnabas, Quintessentially Soho is a venue with a difference. This is a meeting point for London’s glitterati that also provides homeless people on a life skills training programme with work experience, while fundraising for local and international charities.
It is the latest project of the Quintessentially Foundation, the charitable arm of the Quintessentially concierge service set up by former Norton Rose lawyer Paul Drummond in 2000.
“[Quintessentially has done] a lot of fundraising events, but we thought, ’if we’re going to do this, why not bring some focus to it?’, so we set up the Quintessentially Foundation,” explains Drummond. “We did a dinner in 2007 that raised £250,000 for Unicef, and one in 2008 with Annie Lennox that made £300,000 for the Soil Association.”
But with the economy heading south, the foundation “felt it was inappropriate to do £10,000 tables in a posh dinner” and wanted to find alternative sources of income for the worthy causes it supports: The Place2Be, Room to Read, SOS Children’s Villages and The House of St Barnabas.
“We knew the [House of St Barnabas],” says Drummond. “They’re a stone’s throw from our office. We approached them with the idea of a pop-up lounge as a way of raising money through individual donation and hiring the space out.”
The House of St Barnabas has a long history in Soho, having been running as a hostel for homeless people for decades. But a tightened regulatory regime meant it was forced to evolve into a base for a life skills programme, which trains homeless people in the hospitality sector.
The Quintessentially Foundation came up with the inspired idea of converting the Grade 1 listed building into a meeting place for its members that would integrate those on the life skills project into its workforce while splitting revenues between The House of St Barnabas and the foundation’s designated charities.
Cue a busy summer of painting by Quintessentially employees and the installation of £1.5m worth of donated objects under the watchful eye of interior designer Russell Sage, who donated his time for free, with Davenport Lyons partner Alun Thomas assisting on licensing matters.
The venue opened in the autumn to critical acclaim and has had its run extended beyond the three-month period initially intended.
November saw a string of fundraising events, one involving the launch of an online auction for global education charity Room to Read, which raised enough for it to build a school in Nepal. December saw the afterparty for the star-studded premiere of Nowhere Boy, the film about Beatle John Lennon’s early life. Through these initiatives, as well as corporate events and weddings, to date Quintessentially has made £376,000 for charitable causes.
Dewey & LeBoeuf’s London head of competition Peter Crowther is a trusteee of the Quintessentially Foundation and says that the house is “very popular”. But will it mange to hold the short attention spans of the fashionistas?
“It’s a unique treasure, and provided that the space is nurtured it can’t fail to be a success,” emphasises Crowther. “There’s an opportunity as a visitor to enjoy splendid surroundings. This space has stood the test of time.”
What is more, the inclusive approach towards the workforce also applies to the clientele, which Drummond claims is “very eclectic”.
What he means is that, unlike some of the metropolis’s snootier venues, it even accepts lawyers as members.
It takes all sorts.