Peter De Haan interview

IdeasTap was the brainchild of philanthropist and businessman Peter De Haan. He was our founder, Chairman and funder. IdeasTap's Nell Frizzell asked him what he set out to achieve...

Why did you want to help young creative people?

Every day, to get up and face another rejection must be very hard. It’s a tough industry to get into; you’ve got to be able to take the knocks and be adaptable just to put food in your belly.

Also, young creative people seem to be a forgotten group. Does any government care about a few creatives coming out of college or school? The answer is very clearly no.

How did you learn about resilience? About taking those knocks?

Just from working with my dad I think. I’m the youngest brother and working six days a week for my father gave me that drive. I’m not that talented but I think through hard work and a bit of enterprise you can make it.

When I set up the Peter De Haan Charitable Trust I gave away 40% of everything I owned to the charity. My father didn’t have the wealth that we had, but as a proportion of his money he probably gave away more. And his time and effort too. He always helped the underdog. One of my earliest recollections — in this tiny, rather rundown hotel that we lived in — is of my father, who was a chef, going to the Barnado’s nearby with a big tray of cakes he and my mother had made.

Later, my father owned quite a few hotels and he’d always employ people who’d just come out of prison. I realised that my dad was giving them back their self-esteem. They’d be working in a team, earning their own money and they’d have a purpose.

That belief in self esteem and working your way to independence is something that you seem to have inherited too.

I do think work and self-esteem are linked. I know that there are a lot of people in the creative industries working for free. But it’s terrible because it means you only get the middle and upper classes who can afford to do it.

I’ve done quite a bit of work in social welfare — dishing out money, mainly. When you work in that area the main thing you’re trying to pass on is that everybody has choices. I think that people have a choice every morning — do you get up and get on or are you going to lie in bed and moan? I wanted to help people get up and do their work.

As well as social welfare I’ve also been involved in environmental work. Years ago I had this mad idea about planting trees — I’ve probably planted about 100,000 trees. Not personally, of course. But my legacy, if I have one, will be a little bit more breathable air than we’d otherwise have.

What made you concentrate on the arts, when you were already working in social welfare and environmental protection?

Simply because I thought it would be fun. My daughter was working in pottery, my son in film and I realised there was no support structure. I was involved in business incubation down in Deptford and nearly half of those businesses were creative enterprises. So I realised that’s what we needed to do — help young creatives achieve self-esteem through their work. And by giving them money, of course.

When you launched IdeasTap in 2008 did you have any idea it would ever get this big?

Not at all. But as more partners came on board, I started to think we could make a difference. I looked at what the Arts Council wanted, in order to achieve core funding, and that became our target. It set us on a course. It didn’t work in the end, even though we did everything they said, because they simply don’t have enough money to go round.

What have been your highlights over the last seven years?

The website has given me joy every day. And I have looked at it every day. I read the articles and followed the briefs. It was colourful and fun. Every day when I checked the numbers it made me happy to see how many thousands of people were getting involved.

On a more personal note, it has been a real joy meeting people, in the Green Room [where many of our free training events were held], and trying to help them. It’s quite an intimate thing; quite quickly I would get this vision of what that person needed and how I could help them get it.

I’m also proud of the young people we’ve had on our judging panels, in our Heads of Department meetings, on our editorial board. I’ve watched people growing from raw talent into real professionals. And that applies to the staff too.

I get satisfaction from looking at the difference in people — seeing how we’ve helped them.

A lot of people might be surprised by how hands on you’ve been — coming to the office every day, meeting the members, being a mentor, as well as just giving away your money.

Yes. I’ve worked on it every day for the last eight years.

What would you say to young people now, facing a future without IdeasTap?

You’ve got to sell yourself. Differentiate yourself from everyone else and use what’s unique about you.

Also, you need basic business skills to survive. That might mean that you make money from something outside of your discipline for a bit, but that’s what you’ve got to do to put food in your belly and give yourself the self-esteem to carry on.

Remember that there’s always someone hungrier than you. They’re willing to get up earlier, work later and try harder. So don’t be late, don’t turn up hung over, don’t turn up dressed in last night’s clothes. It’s already very competitive; don’t make it harder for yourself by being unprofessional.

Finally, don’t forget to promote yourself.

It’s not enough just to be making work — you’ve got to let people know what you’re doing.

IdeasTap in numbers

Our past collaborators