Jonathan Ruffer, a successful fund manager in London, is originally from the North East of England and “a heavy duty Christian” who wants to be sure that the absurd amounts of money he has earned does not become a disgrace. He is spending time and large amounts of money to restore Auckland Castle, home of the monumental images of the Spanish master Francisco de Zurbarán that he bought from the Church of England in 2012. The Castle is in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, England an area with high unemployment, a high percentage of people living in poverty, high rates of teen pregnancy and drug addiction, and where incidents of domestic violence are well above the national average.
In the interest of time I have edited down the 1 and a half hour interview to approximately 12 minutes, sorry for the brutal jump cuts. I have transcribed some parts of the interview below.
“I am very comfortable with the word stewardship because I am, by personality, an old fart, and I find an antique word one that I am quite happy to live with. And I am a heavy duty Christian and stewardship is a Christian idea… It raises the whole question of what the nature of ownership is… one has to get away from ownership to really get at what is going on.”
“I have no training in anything that would be useful in a deprived community. And I thought about it and the two things I can do is I can encourage people and I can unify people.”
“ The Zurbarán pictures were being sold by the church for a very big sum of money and they are the only things of value in this area that are not nailed down… but those pictures would have gone to Russia. It is a very big discouragement. I thought that by rescuing them this would be a stake in the ground for what I wanting to do and then it became clear that I had unlocked a door of a retractable problem, which was what was going to happen to this great resource of Bishop Auckland of the castle. And I have a view that if we can make this place, a place of great beauty and somewhere that people will come as a destination… because it is a resource of Bishop Auckland… the town was invented to serve the castle, now the castle must serve the town. It is a walk of faith, I am doing this because I feel called to it, and if people say to me just how will it help the town the answer is well we will see…. And of course I don’t know what the vision is, I feel like an old testament prophet, where I absolutely know what I am doing, I have to do…. what it means is not yet clear to me. The work that I feel frustrated I can do is being done second hand and in my view that is the important work. If I could look forward I think that Auckland Castle will turn out to be a catalyst to make the important stuff happen but it will not itself be the important stuff…. I think money, which looks to be such a powerful thing, isn’t…what it tells you is actually how difficult it is to make 54 million quid do anything. I see this as a building that needs to pull itself together having sucked life from the town from for 800 years it now needs to give it back but it does not know how. I am mortified by the fact that I am kept away from what I see as the real work downtown.”
“How to you bring people to see that you don’t have to be hierarchical, that ownership is not the key, that all these ways of thinking are distortions of a greater truth.”