February 22, 2024

Charity Trivia

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At the last count the UK was home to over 160,000 registered charities. Anyone working in the third sector can probably reel off the names of at least fifteen of them without giving it too much thought, but did you know any of these fun facts about charities?

The oldest charity?

Charities (not including schools) have been around in the UK for almost 900 years, and most sources agree that St John’s Winchester Charity is certainly one of the oldest, and definitely the oldest in the South East of England. Set up in 934 as an Almshouse for the needy and infirm, it became a charity in the modern sense in 1829 and still provides sheltered accommodation for around 100 older people in the city.


The first in their field

St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London (now part of the Royal Hospitals NHS Trust) is the first medical charity. Built in 12th century Smithfield by Rahere, a courtier of Henry I. He fell ill on a pilgrimage to Rome and decided to found a hospital to benefit the poor of the City of London.

The first animal charity in the UK is probably the RSPCA Liverpool Branch. It was founded in 1809 at a coffee house in Bold Street where a group of good people formed a society for 'the suppression of Wanton Cruelty to Brute Animals'. We prefer the new title but this one does have a zing.


The national ‘Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA)’ was then founded almost 200 years ago in 1824, when 22 founding members, including the MPs William Wilberforce and Richard Martin met at Old Slaughters Coffee House in London, and sparked a movement which went on to spread across the world, transforming the lives of countless animals.

The first environmental charity was set up in 1898 as the Coal Smoke Abatement Society (CSAS). It was started by artist William Blake Richmond because of the low light levels in the winter caused by coal smoke. In a letter to The Times, Sir William said "the darkness was comparable to a total eclipse of the sun". It went on to become Environmental Protection UK, which in 2023 joined the Institution of Environmental Sciences (IES) and continues to work with local authorities to implement pro-environmental policies.


Who has the most…?


Roll out the red carpet: Cancer Research UK is thought to be the most ‘famous’ charity amongst the British public according to YouGov, who found 99% of survey participants had heard of the charity.



Can you guess which is the wealthiest charity? We couldn’t. It’s the City Bridge Foundation. With assets of nearly £600m, what was known as Bridge House Estates, was founded in the thirteenth century to manage income from tolls, rents and bequests to fund the construction and upkeep of the old stone London Bridge. The charity built the Blackfriars and Tower Bridges, bought Southwark Bridge and still retains sole responsibility for them. Since 1995 it has been making provision of available surplus cash to London charities focussed on disability, children, the elderly and the environment.



The NCVO estimates that around 925,000 people work in the UK voluntary sector, making up about 3% of the UK’s total workforce. According to Statista, approximately 16,400 of these lovely people work for Nuffield Health, making it the largest UK charity employer (very closely followed by Save the Children International).

Clinical & Medical :: Nuffield Health Careers

Charity shops

According to the Charity Retail Association, there are over 10,000 charity shops in the UK. The British Heart Foundation has around 690 shops, meaning it takes the crown as Britain’s biggest charity retailer (according to Civil Society’s Charity Shops Survey). For more charity shop facts, check out this article by The Big Issue.

Shop with the British Heart Foundation - BHF

And there you have it, we hope we’ve given you a solid foundation for any future pub quizzes. And if you have any interesting additions to the list, please let us know!

Fun fact about us: we love a good story. Catsnake is a storytelling agency for the third sector, do you have a story that needs telling? We’d love to hear it.