John Sharp, who died in 1895, was one of the leading figures in Dundee’s “jutopolis.” His company, John Sharp and Sons, operated three mills, employing over 1,200 workers at the height of the industry in Dundee.
The wealthy jute magnate - known as “Honest John” - was a noted philanthropist who donated generously to a variety of public causes in his lifetime, including the Dundee Royal Infirmary, the welfare of children and the provision of public parks.
And now a £200,000 legacy from the benevolent fund he established has been donated by the fund’s trustees to the Dundee Social Enterprise Network to invest in new and existing social enterprise businesses in the city over the next two years.
The new funding initiative was launched today at The Factory Skatepark in Dundee, close to the site of one of the Sharp and Sons mills in Miln Street.
Derek Marshall, the chairman of DSEN, welcomed the substantial backing from the jute baron’s fund. And he said: “To think that in 2013 that money will still be doing good in the city, starting new jobs and creating new business, is a tremendous thing.”
He continued: “This is an exciting development which will help accelerate the ongoing growth of social enterprise businesses in Dundee. In partnership with the John Sharp and Sons Benevolent Trust, we are launching a scheme of support grants of up to £5,000 for new start-ups and for existing organisations piloting new ideas.
“We are also planning to provide a range of business support spanning training, legal and marketing activities as part of the scheme.”
Mr Marshall continued; “It is encouraging to know that the entrepreneurial legacy left by John Sharp is alive and well and continues to provide opportunities for new businesses right up to the present day.
“We now have a responsibility to make sure that we make the most of his fund’s generosity by helping a new generation of entrepreneurs get their business ideas up and running. The futures fund will help us to expand the social enterprise sector and create new jobs for Dundee.”
There are currently over 30 social enterprise businesses within the Dundee network. employing an estimated 500 people and with a total turnover of £17 million.
Mr Marshall explained: “Our members provide a wide range of goods and services to individuals and communities in the city, spanning social care, housing, money advice, supported employment, leisure and recycling. Some are large organisations, some are small, but they all share a commitment to trade in a socially and environmentally responsible way.
“We are looking forward to many new companies joining us in the social enterprise sector in Dundee over the next two years.”
John Sharp and Sons opened the company’s first mill was in Miln Street. The mill has been demolished and now serves as the car park for the Verdant Works, Scotland’s jute museum. The company also owned the Bower Mill in Douglas Street and the Edward Street Mill.
Mr Sharp was said to have been one of the most respected business figures in the city during the height of the jute industry and served as President of the Dundee Chamber of Commerce during 1865.
At its height, in the late 19th Century, Dundee was the base for around 60 jute mills employing more than 50,000 workers. Two out of three of the workers were women. Jute was manufactured for a wide variety of uses, including sacking, wagon covers for travellers to America’s west, and the backing of carpets and linoleum.