Lyn and Trevor Shears
Lyn and Trevor Shears established a charitable trust in 1996 after the public sale of their transport company, which realised £20m. The Shears Foundation started with an endowment of £8m, and is very much a family affair with family members as trustees. The couple planned to pass the management of the trust on to their children in about ten years. Each year the trust distributes £800,000 in grants.
The couple’s philanthropic work covered a wide range of good causes, from restoring trams to encouraging young opera singers to helping sex workers find new employment. But the criteria for funding is clear, supporting charities and organisations that fall into the categories of cultural, educational, environmental, health and medical and community.
In 2012 the Foundation’s endowment stood at £14m, and the couple distributed over £800,000 per year. The couple said that, “Having a charitable foundation has helped our philanthropy because shares can be transferred to the trust tax free, enabling us to give more. It also means that we are registered with the Charity Commission, which puts us on a more professional standing and makes it easier for people to know about the categories of giving we are interested in.”
Based in Newcastle, Lyn and Trevor supported a number of projects in the North East. Lyn has a particular interest in the arts and in singing. Their largest donation to date, of £300,000, has been to The Sage, in Gateshead, a prominent music venue and education centre.
Frequently Lyn and Trevor made a long-term commitment to the charities they invest in. After an initial grant of £70,000 to the refurbishment of the Live Theatre in Newcastle Quayside, they continued to make an annual grant of £10,000 to its education programme to encourage young playwrights.
The Shears also increase funding to charities they are particularly impressed with; their funding of The Woodland Trust has gone from £1,000 a year to £10,000 a year over the past seven years.
Through their Foundation, the Shears are supporting the newly opened Tyneside Cinema. Lyn says: “We are fired up about this project as it ticks many boxes by refurbishing an important building and providing a unique experience for the community and for students.”
The Foundation’s giving often has an educational element but two projects are specifically in the education sector. They fund two bursaries at Trevor’s old school, Bradford Grammar. Lyn explained: “We are hoping that we may be able to add to this fund and create an endowment that might go into perpetuity.” They also fund Open University scholarships.
The Foundation also supports a furniture-recycling project in Northumberland. Lyn says: “They are taking furniture that might otherwise end up on landfill sites, restoring it and selling it cheaply to people in need.” It also provides employment for people, who often have special needs, helping them to gain confidence.
On the health and medical front Lyn and Trevor gave money towards Alzheimer’s Research. “Lyn’s mother has Alzheimer’s and we are fully aware of the horror of this terrible condition”, Trevor explained in 2012.
To support other local projects, Lyn and Trevor helped to set up an endowment with the Community Foundation in Tyne and Wear. Lyn advises newcomers to philanthropy to work with their local community foundation to gain advice on funding. She also advocates being clear from the start about what you want to fund, setting clear criteria and talking to other philanthropists to learn from their experience. “And insist on feedback from the projects you support.”
In the future, the plan is to build up the endowment so that they will be able to make grants of over £1m a year. In ten years’ time, Lyn plans to hand over responsibility for the trust to their children.
Lyn concludes: “It is so rewarding to pass on our ideas of philanthropy to our family and know that they also want our foundation to go on into perpetuity.”