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OAE Benevolent Fund

The 2022-2023 Season marks 25 years since the foundation of the OAE Benevolent Fund, a unique charity that provides support for players of the OAE. To mark 25 years of the Fund, we are inviting Friends, Patrons, and audience members to support this valuable safety net for our players.

What is the OAE Benevolent Fund?

The OAE Benevolent Fund is an independent charity set up 25 years ago. As is the case with most orchestras in the UK, the OAE’s musicians are self-employed, meaning that if players have to withdraw from an engagement, for example due to illness or injury, they do not receive any compensation.

The Benevolent Fund helps players in such situations. It supports the OAE’s freelance musicians and provides a crucial safety net, awarding grants to players for lost income from OAE engagements. The Fund has so far supported players with over 50 grants, with an average value of £1,200.

How did the Benevolent Fund come about?

The Benevolent Fund was started 25 years ago, when the OAE had been running for just 11 years. As you might expect for a player-led orchestra, the Benevolent Fund was an initiative of the players themselves, as a way to support each other through difficult circumstances. Being a musician has always been a risky business, and in the early years the OAE was not yet as established an organisation as it is today. The Benevolent Fund ensured that this risk was shared between the players of the OAE, and that they would receive compensation for lost work if they needed it.

How is it funded?

For the last 25 years, the Benevolent Fund has been largely funded by the players themselves. Players would contribute to the Fund through donations, stipends, and by regularly waiving their fees at nominated concerts in support of the Fund.

However, given the difficulties faced by musicians over the past two years and the amount of cancelled work and lost earnings, it is no longer sustainable for the players to keep the fund going themselves. Along with trustee fundraising initiatives, we are now asking our Friends, Patrons, and audience members to support the Benevolent Fund directly for the first time, to ensure that this important safety net can continue.

Why does the fund need support?

The ongoing impact of Covid has meant that there is a higher demand for grants than at any point previously. Demand had already been increasing before the pandemic as the scale of the orchestra has grown; as the Fund covers lost income from OAE employment, demand had grown in part due to there being so many more OAE engagements than when the fund was first created. As we are no longer able to expect musicians to waive their fees, this has meant that demand has increased while funding has decreased. By supporting the Benevolent Fund, you are supporting its players and ensuring that the orchestra continues.

A word from the Trustees

Violist Jan Schlapp is a founding member of the OAE and now a Trustee of the Benevolent Fund. Jan says ‘we have always thought of the orchestra as a big family. To have the back-up of people who care about you is exceptional in a professional context, and feels very precious.’ The support of the Benevolent Fund means a great deal to the OAE’s musicians. It isn’t easy being a professional musician at the best of times. Illness or injury can mean a devastating loss of earnings, so for our musicians to know that there is support available for them in difficult circumstances is transformational.

Sue Palmer has been involved in the OAE since the 1980s, and has been a key part of the OAE ever since, as a former member of the Board, and later as a founding member and now Chair of the OAE Benevolent Fund. What drew Sue to the OAE was that it was really the players’ orchestra, and she describes the OAE as innovative and risk-taking. As Sue says, ‘perhaps it is not surprising, in an orchestra with this ethos, that a player initiative should have created the Fund.’

The players often put the orchestra first in their careers. The Benevolent Fund is a way of recognising this, showing the OAE’s players that they too are prioritised and acknowledging the unique relationship between this organisation and its musicians – and our wider family of supporters.