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Belfast Forward: Ten Foundations


In the very first installment of Belfast Forward, a new regular feature looking at some of the city’s most intriguing small businesses, organisations and individuals,  Laura Carland spoke to Ten Foundations founder, Ian Campbell, about an inspiring organisation. Nestled on the busy Lisburn Road in Belfast, you can find one part coffee shop one part charity thrift store, Ten Foundations. Promoting a genuinely warm, welcoming and positive atmosphere, you relax with a hot drink, plug in and work or browse and shop safe in the knowledge that 100% of the proceeds will be used to help those living in poverty in Philippines. Photos by Joe Laverty.


How did Ten Foundations start?  

It was one of those bizarre things.

I had been to the Philippines on a trip and you tend to be immediately struck by the poverty. By this time, I had gone through cancer recoveryand we had already experienced personal financial disaster. I suppose I had always thought about maybe doing something for charity with Habitat for Humanity for example but it never materialized. Eventually I thought I could do something by myself and … perhaps it was a bit naïve in that way … I thought I would start a charity. Throughout this, I was really very lucky. I met wonderful people on that initial trip to the Philippines that when it came to starting this all up, I thought would be good to work with. It was by chance I met a Filipino man on the plane on the way over who eventually introduced me to Joy. Joy now oversees our whole bag production operation in the Philippines.

Most of our work is based in the town of Balayan in the province of Batangas about three hours south of Manila on the island of Luzon. Ten Foundations has been operating now for about three years and we’ve been based in our Lisburn Road location for about a year now.

Where did you get the name ‘Ten Foundations’?

One of our trustees works in marketing and came up with the name Ten Foundations. We have a small orphanage which currently has eight children in it. Originally we were going to have ten orphanages – hence where the ‘Ten’ comes into the name – but since we started doing our livelihood project, about a year and a half ago, we started producing bags and very quickly realized that this is the way to help people.


Could you tell us more about the livelihood programme and the bag production?

You ‘Teach a man to fish’ … you know that old phrase? ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day but teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’. That’s the same idea behind the bag production.

We have about 20-30 women working with us at the moment and between them they have around 150 kids. We counted it up recently andsome of them have as many as eight kids to feed. We felt that if we can give the local people a job – in this case, producing bags, handbags, shopping bags etc, which we’ll then take back to Belfast and sell, all the proceeds go back to them through the charity. They develop their own skills and they then have their own livelihood. We have a coffee company who supply the coffee burlap sacks which we make the bags with. Four of us went out about a month ago with about 30kg worth of bags which the women made while we were there and we then brought them back to Belfast to sell. We have a new range of weekend bags at the moment and we source the zips for them from a local market out there. At the moment we have a ‘One for One’ school bag scheme so that if you buy a bag in Belfast, we give one to a child in the Philippines for free that they can use for going to school.

Can you tell us more about the Ten Foundations orphanage?

The orphanage was the first thing we did before our focus changed completely towards more community based programmes. I recently read a statistic that 80% of children in orphanages worldwide are not orphans. Many of the children have one parent or two parents who simply can’t afford to look after them hence why they end up in institutions and that’s wrong to do that. Isn’t it far better if we could help a parent to look after their kids? It would be far better if we were to help that parent or those parents, give them a job and give them a livelihood and get them out of the cycle of poverty. In countries like the Phillipines, many people have little or no education and parents can’t afford to send their kids to school. So they’ve got no education and they reach about 15 or 16, the next thing they are pregnant again in big families and the whole cycle starts again.

We have a little girl named Eve there at the moment who happens to have Down’s Syndrome. She was found abandoned after Typhoon Haiyan – one of the strongest tropical typhoons ever recorded – a year and a half ago. She was in a convent with nuns but they couldn’t really look after her. The Department of Social Welfare and Development heard about us and what we were doing and asked if we would go and meet her and as soon as we did that was it. We had to take her. We don’t know her exact age but doctors think she’s about five years old. She’s a wee dote but she has absolutely everybody wrapped around her little finger.

When I was out there recently, about three weeks ago, I happened to cut my leg. Another little girl we care for in the orphanage noticed andaway she went only to come back with iodine to patch me up. There’s a future nurse there!


What other projects are you working on with Ten Foundations?

Among our other projects, we have a daily feeding programme among the bigger high schools there during term time and we have our livelihood programme. We also offer some students a scholarship; students from a very poor background who would be unable to attend otherwise. We also do a bit of disaster relief because the Philippines gets hit by about 20 typhoons a year.

Ashfield Girls School in East Belfast have been fundraising over the last two years and have raised over £10000. With this we were able to buy nearly half a hectare of land and we’re putting up a building which is going to be called the Ashfield Livelihood and Training Centre. It’s going to be a place to train more people to make the bags and products as well as operating as an Alternative Learning Centre. Due to the poverty in the area, a lot of children leave education early about 12 or 13 and this will work alongside a Government initiative Alternative Learning System (ALS) to allow people to get back into education.

We started building and within two weeks we had the structure of the building built in bamboo with a roof made of palm leaves – very much like thatching. Bamboo is really a grass and it’s one of the fastest growing plants on Earth. It can grow up to 98 inches in 24 hours and it’s very strong. We actually were selling speakers for iPhones and iPads here in the shop recently made from cut bamboo. They are simple in design but brilliant and really effective. We made some out in the Philippines and brought them back to sell and they went very quickly.

I try to go out to the Philippines about twice a year if I can afford it. Just three weeks ago we were out there planting mango trees; which acts as a symbol of hope and growth for the future. I love mangos and they are beautiful trees so it will look wonderful when it’s all finished.

We’re planning a fully supported charity cycle in the Philippines over about ten days starting in Manila and ending in Balayan. People would pay their own way to get there but there would be a fundraising aspect to the trip so people would aim to raise about £1000. In the mean time on the 21st of June we’re taking part in the Gran Fondo in Belfast which is an off-shoot of the Giro D’Italia for amateur cyclists. It starts andfinishes at the Titanic Quarter in Belfast with a target of over 177km with between 4000-6000 cyclists taking part. We’re hoping there will be 10 of us taking part as ‘Team 10’.


Creating Ten Foundations in Belfast

We fitted the whole shop out on our own. We – my wife Evie and my family – we did all of this ourselves. I have a joinery background so we made all the wooden panels and coffee bar etc – this was really easy for us. We spent less than £1000 fitting the shop out and everything – furniture included – was kindly donated. My daughter, Sarah, is a tattooist and a very talented artist. She made all the brilliant signs around the shop.

I find the whole experience of setting up and running Ten Foundations to be very rewarding and also, in a way, therapeutic.

We’re small but I’m very proud of the fact that we don’t employ anyone here. As we’re a registered charity, we’re entirely staffed by loyal volunteers. I don’t know where we would be without brilliant people like our volunteers. Thanks to them 100% of the money we make goes towards helping others. All our stock – with the exception of the bags we make – is thanks to kind donations.

We’ve thankfully been very lucky in that people bring stuff in all the time. We get good stock but sometimes we get unusual items. We’ve had a unicycle and straight-jacket brought in. You know, it was just after Fifty Shades of Grey came out? There was a roll of duct tape somewhere along with it. I think it was a guy from the circus who brought it in. A very niche market that. It didn’t stay here for too long.



It’s great that this space is used for much more than its purpose as a coffee shop and charity thrift store. Earlier today we had some people in shooting a 3D film. They asked to use the space in exchange for a donation and they’ve been acting out scenes all day. They had a pole set up with loads of little cameras around it. I’m really not sure how it works but it was good to watch.

We have quiz nights on everything from Disney to Father Ted which raise money for the charity. We also host Mindful Movies every month, usually on a Friday night, where people can come and watch feature documentaries usually in exchange for a small donation. We’ve also had plays performed here. One that sticks out was called ‘Diablo’. They made a stage out of pallets and by the end of it there was lots of fake blood on the floor. It was a great show and a really powerful performance.

Just last night we had a talk from Diana Gleadhill for her book ‘Waterborne’ which is about her travels sailing around the world. We moved the sofas round, had a slideshow going and there were glasses of wine. It was very good. Diana has written three books now. She was introduced to me after Typhoon Haiyan and she told me that she wanted to do something beyond just donating money. She’s donating all the proceeds from the sale of her book to the charity and to date she’s raised over £4000.

We’ve actually even had a Christening! Last summer, we had a play reading one night and one of the actresses came up to me afterwards andsaid ‘I love this space and the feeling about it’. She was Catholic but felt a bit disillusioned with the Church and her husband was an atheistand asked could they christen the child in here. I told them ‘Of course you can’. They came on a Sunday afternoon and there was about 60 of them from Cork, Dublin and all over the place and they just did their own thing. They christened the baby and told people that instead of buying gifts they could make a donation. I think we raised a few hundred pounds from this alone.

We’re in the process of planning a Filipino Day celebrating Filipino culture, music and food. A lot of people aren’t aware that we work out there and whilst there’s an awful lot of poverty, there are an awful lot of good things about it. You know how you go to some places now andthey are a bit touristy or feel a bit false? The Philippines just feels real. It’s just different. Untouched almost. It’s a stunning place. Obviously tourism is a great way of bringing money into somewhere but I hope it doesn’t change the feel of the place too much.


Have you any plans to expand Ten Foundations to other locations?

We might do. We’re a registered charity so we thankfully have this place on the Lisburn Road rent and rates free for another two years. It’s a little bit of a struggle ensuring that we always have volunteers – it’s not easy. We might look at another location but the bag production is really only starting although it’s getting better all the time. Every time I go and bring some bags back the quality of them is improving all the time. We’re hoping to get the bags into other retail shops.


From the Philippines to Belfast

We worked with 100 Help the Homeless at Christmas. I remember reading somewhere coming up to Christmas time about how you could go into a charity shop, buy a rucksack, fill it up with stuff and give it to a homeless person. I thought it might be good idea to get rucksacks made out in the Philippines, bring them back here and then the homeless charity can fill them full of food and wet weather gear etc. You could then buy it as a Christmas present for £25. We would give you a card which you gave to the recipient of your gift. £15 of this goes to the women who made the bag out in the Philippines, £10 went to the homeless charity here in Belfast and a homeless person here got their bag full of stuff. I thought it was great that you’d have a woman living in terrible poverty out in the Philippines 7000 miles away helping a homeless person here in Belfast. I think it’s a lovely idea.

It was through your work with 100 Help the Homeless that you were nominated for the Prime Minister’s ‘Points of Light’ award? Tell us more about this

It was through the partnership with 100 Help the Homeless and the rucksack idea that I was nominated. I got a phone call from the Cabinet Office one day and I thought it was someone winding me up. It really was from Downing Street; I don’t know how many phone calls I had about it. I was told they were going to award the ‘Points of Light’ to me the following Tuesday and after they emailed me I emailed them backand asked them to pass on my thanks to the Prime Minister. Apparently there is somebody in the UK awarded one of these every day – I’m the 220th . It actually started in America with Barack Obama and David Cameron took it on as one of his pet projects. It’s funny – I got a letter from Belfast City Council about the ‘Points of Light’ award where the Lord Mayor Nicola Mallon addresses it ‘Dear Mr Campbell’ but the letter from Downing Street starts it very casually ‘Dear Ian’ and it’s signed off with ‘David’. We’re on first name terms so I can joke that we’re practically best buddies now.


If you would be interested in joining the Ten Foundations team as a volunteer, working with the organization or you would like to visit, you can find more information below:  

Ten Foundations

Ten Foundations Twitter

Ten Foundations Website:

is the editor of The Thin Air. Talk to him about Philip Glass and/or follow him on Twitter @brianconey.