News / Community

Brunswick couple leave their community a lasting gift

A new social justice fund is the fulfillment of the two philanthropists’ final wishes

Kerri Hall and Christopher Baker. Photo: supplied

Mark Phillips
Friday, September 17, 2021

A MODEST Californian bungalow in a quiet Brunswick street not only provided a roof over the heads of Christopher Baker and Kerri Hall for more than three decades, but will ensure their legacy outlasts their lives.

All proceeds from the sale of the house in Rose Street earlier this year have been put into a new social justice fund that will benefit the community of Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs for years to come.

It is the fulfillment of the wishes of the two deceased philanthropists, and an example they want others to follow.

The Bakers Dozen Social Justice Fund was officially launched on Thursday by the Inner North Community Foundation, an independent philanthropic organisation which operates in the municipalities of Moreland, Darebin and Yarra.

In total, almost $4 million has been distributed to a string of inner northern organisations from the couple’s estate, with the lion’s share of that being invested in the new social justice fund.

“Christopher and Kerri’s gift is important for Melbourne’s inner north,” said Ben Rodgers, the executive officer of the Inner North Community Foundation.

“It will provide an annual grants stream for local projects, and have lasting impact in the place they called home. But in some ways, what is more important is the practical demonstration of impact.”

Having officially launched the Bakers Dozen Social Justice Fund during the annual Include a Charity Week, Mr Rodgers is hoping their example will inspire others to leave a small proportion of their own will for charitable purposes.

Ms Hall died in 2017, aged 61 and Dr Baker died in June last year, aged 63.

Both shared a passion for giving, for helping others and about the role of philanthropy in creating fairer and more inclusive communities.

Dr Baker served on the board of the Inner North Community Foundation from 2013 and was its chair from 2018 until his death.

He had a long career in human resources in the public and private sectors including senior positions at ANZ bank, was also an an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University. His research interests included included charitable giving from estates and diversity in philanthropy.

“The biggest gift that my mother and father gave me was my values and my education,” Dr Baker reflected before his death. “It’s those things that enable me to live my life as a life that I can feel comfortable about. It’s not money, it is values.”

Ms Hall grew up in the Mallee and was a strong advocate for literacy and its role in creating opportunities for people and their future.

Inner Northern Community Foundation chair Carolyn Phiddian said Dr Baker initiated a conversation about bequeathing much of his estate to the foundation about 18 months before his death.

The couple had no children and wanted the foundation to receive the proceeds of the sale of their 1920s Californian bungalow house in Rose Street, Brunswick. They bought the house in 1985 for less than $70,000.

The house went under the hammer in April this year, selling at auction for $1.62 million. Together with their superannuation, their donation to the community foundation totalled $3.5 million.

“At the end of Christopher’s life, he said ‘I never expected to have this much money’,” Mr Rodgers said.

“They bought the house in 1986 for around $60,000 because it was the only place they could afford and rode the property wave.”

The money has been poured into the Bakers Dozen Social Justice Fund which has the twin aims of growing community generosity and building a more equitable community.

The fund will make grants focusing on increasing social and economic fairness, strengthening community resilience and capacity, supporting collaboration and partnerships and building community agency and leadership.

Six organisations have received amounts of between $2500 and $5000 in the first round of grants, including the Brunswick Neighbourhood House, a Victoria University project to celebrate the campaign against the closure of the Northland Secondary College by the Kennett Government in the 1990s, and the Fitzroy Learning Network, and to a Preston-based club for elderly Greek women.

Other beneficiaries from Dr Baker and Ms Hall’s wills are CERES in Brunswick East and The Social Studio, an ethical clothing business that provides opportunities for refugees.

Mr Rodgers said that while the couple would be pleased that their own bequest will benefit their community, just as important was to show other people in the inner north that “you don’t have to be Bill Gates to give”.

“In the next 10 years, there will be billions of dollars passing from one generation to the next [in the inner north] and if that remains among family members, the wealth divide will grow and that’s not good for communities to have that kind of inequality.

“People in Melbourne’s inner north have a generous spirit: 40% give [to charity] on an annual basis, but only 7% have a gift in their will.”

The Inner North Community Foundation is an independent philanthropic organisation established in 2007 to build pathways to employment and economic participation in the 30 suburbs that make up the cities of Moreland, Darebin and Yarra. It currently has about $11 million in funds under its management and distributes about $500,000 in grants each year.

The Bakers Dozen Social Justice Fund is its second flagship fund and is one of 27 named funds now under its umbrella. A prospectus for potential donors was also launched on Thursday.