I looked for things that I could do in the charitable sector and found two. Of course, I supported the small local charitable calls with a cheque, but simply giving money away didn’t appeal. I wanted to create something new that I could do because of my particular knowledge and experience, not because I could afford to.

Lo and behold, I just started to think about this when the Berlin Wall came down and the USAF troops based close by at Greenham Common went home, leaving an empty 800-acre (324-hectare) airbase with hard standing and a few empty buildings to rot. GC was one of the skeins of airbases built in a southern England preparing to launch the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1942. It subsequently housed some ninety-nine cruise missiles in a series of bunkers that became a cause célèbre for the antinuclear lobby and, in 1982, was famous for the perimeter fence being surrounded by thirty-thousand women who chained themselves to the railings.

Women protesting against the decision to house American cruise missiles there hold a candlelit vigil at Greenham Common, 1982.

Located inside the Greenham Common Peace Garden, this sculpture by Michael Marriott depicts the flames of the campfires that kept women warm during the protests.

The women who took on the British government’s nuclear programme at Greenham Common, a former Royal Air Force Station, set up what became known as the Women’s Peace Camp.

By the 1990s, most of the problems had been dissipated, the cruise missiles had gone, and all that remained was a small peace camp. It was a blot on Newbury’s landscape, and solutions were being sought. Technically, it was owned by the UK government, which, under the law, was required to advertise widely and accept the highest offer. I put a proposal to the business community in the town and, to my pleasant surprise, found that it had resonance. All work was to be pro bono, and we’d try to acquire it in a charitable trust.

After wearing a groove in the road between the Ministry of Defence in Westminster and home over a few years, we were eventually rewarded with approval to acquire the site at an agreed figure of £4 million plus overrides. We’d founded the trust without any money but were able to borrow all the funds from Barclays Bank on acceptable terms and started the “swords into ploughshares” transformation. We returned the common land originally commandeered from the commoners at the bargain price of £1 and developed the building and hard standing into a smart industrial estate that is still in its creation.

Recently, we celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Greenham Trust, which has now distributed over £75 million to some five thousand charities. The original directors willingly put in a huge effort, and now with an ever-developing board, it is run as you might expect a company with a substantial £100 million asset to be governed. Throughout this time, the Greenham Trust has made a terrific contribution to the region, with directors happily working alongside others who, in their normal business lives, would be competitors. There is a real sense of achievement and is quoted as “the best thing that happened to this small dormitory town.”

Pelican Cancer Foundation

As founding chairman, I was pleased to steer one of the first donations to another charity just a few miles away in Hampshire called the Pelican Cancer Foundation, which I, together with others, founded around the same time. For ten years, we lived close to the North Hampshire Hospital (NHH) in Basingstoke, an “overflow” town for London. There, I met a team of senior surgeons who were talking about a new approach they had developed for bowel cancer, the biggest killer of men after lung cancer. On average, only one-third of the patients diagnosed with the disease lived for five years without recurrence after surgery. This very special team had turned the statistics on their head, and over 90 per cent of their patients were cured to have a full life without impotency or being made incontinent.

A group of businessmen living close to the NHH got together to discuss this problem and the graphic benefits that could result from a national solution. Together we funded what became the Pelican Cancer Foundation (pelvic, liver, and cancer) based at NHH. The aim was to finance ongoing teaching and research projects related to this subject. Meanwhile, Tony Blair, who became PM in 1997, was concerned that the UK had the poorest recovery statistics for bowel cancer and other malignancies and, in 1999, appointed Professor Mike Richards as cancer czar with the brief to do something about it. The trouble was that there weren’t many new ideas that could offer anything substantially helpful.

Then happily, he alighted on Professor Bill Heald and Pelican, and one day I walked into a meeting that was in full swing with Mike and Bill and soon realised that there was serious government-sponsored interest in promoting the benefits of precision surgery across the NHS. It sounded as if money would be allocated to achieve this aim, and that is what happened. From then on, Pelican went from strength to strength, approaching ten thousand medics who have attended forums that included showing live operations over a video link to illustrate and tell the story. It was none too soon, for by then, headed by Sweden, a substantial segment of international colorectal surgeons had drunk the potion and adopted the new operation that had been classified as total mesorectal excision (TME). Bill was celebrated and honoured with a CBE.

Precision surgery for bowel cancer at Pelican.

It has been estimated that this operation has saved hundreds of thousands of people from an early and unpleasant death and given them a much-improved quality of life. Pelican and Basingstoke are known throughout the colorectal surgical world as the place to go for bowel cancer opinion, management, and treatment. Nothing else in the medical world made such a dramatic improvement, and ongoing research from the learned papers have been referenced hundreds of times.