Boris Johnson is a patron of a charity partly funded by Putin money

17 Mar 2022 News

Boris Johnson

Flickr: Financial Times

Downside Up, a charity which boasts the prime minister, Boris Johnson, as a patron has received grants to support its work from a fund set up by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. 

In the last three years the charity, which is registered with the Charity Commission, has received just under £385,000 from the Presidential Grant Fund to fund projects supporting children and their families around Russia. 

Last week the Charity Commission advised charities to consider reputational risks associated with donors, in light of the invasion of Ukraine.

The regulator has now opened a compliance case into Downside Up. 

A Charity Commission spokeswoman said: “We are aware that Downside Up operates in Russia and has received funds from the Russian government. We have opened a case to engage with the trustees.”

Downside Up said it was “wholly apolitical” and is co-operating with the Commission and claims that money raised in Russia is handled by a separate legal entity. 

Well-connected charity

According to its website, Downside Up was founded in the 1990s by Jeremy Barnes, his sister Veronique and some friends including Martin Thomas, who nearly became the chair of the Charity Commission last year. 

Barnes, Garrett and Thomas are still three of the four trustees. The fourth is based in Russia and runs the charity. 

City Hall records show that back in 2013, Thomas, in his capacity as a trustee of Downside Up, gifted Johnson, then mayor of London, a Takema watch.  

Downside Up’s website includes a testimonial from Johnson, which says: “Downside Up continues to be an absolute inspiration to all … it’s fantastic that they are now widely seen as an internationally recognised organisation.”

When asked if he planned to continue as a patron, a spokesperson for Johnson said: “The prime minister has a number of charitable patronages which are all declared in his list of ministerial interests.  

“This charity supports neglected children with Down’s Syndrome in Russia. As patron, he has no executive role in this charity and any grants this charity receives are completely independent from his patronage.

“The government has been clear to distinguish the actions of the Putin regime from everyday Russians – in this case, children with disabilities.”

The charity also lists Cherie Blair, the wife of former prime minister Tony Blair, as a patron. A spokesperson for Blair said she had not been involved since 2007. 


In the past three financial years the charity’s accounts, as filed with the Commission, declare a series of grants from the Presidential Grants Fund.

This fund supports many NGOs in Russia and there are multiple funding rounds each year.

Downside Up’s 2020 accounts say: “Project Prevention financed by Presidential Grants Fund is established in November 2018 to promote the prevention of abandonment of children with Down Syndrome by providing regular comprehensive psychological and pedagogical support to parents of children with Down Syndrome at an early age.”

The charity’s total income for 2020 was around £2m and government income amounted to £264,000. 

Civil Society News has so far been unable to identify any other UK-registered charities receiving funding from the Russian government. 

‘Wholly apolitical’ 

Civil Society News asked the charity if it would accept funding from the fund in the future. In response, the Downside Up posted a statement on its website. 

This emphasised the good work the charity does, and said: “We have reached the point where we interact in some way with the lives of over 50% of all children in Russia born with Down’s Syndrome.” 

The statement said the charity said it is “wholly apolitical”. 

“It is, like other charities with beneficiaries in Russia, wrestling urgently with what, if anything, it can do to continue to support those beneficiaries in the current situation,” the statement added.

The charity confirmed that it was in touch with the Commission, and said: “We will of course be cooperating fully with them [the Commission]. It is worth noting that Downside Up’s work in Russia is undertaken by a separate legal entity and monies donated in Russia to that Russian charity do not come via Downside Up.”

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