Celebrating the 90th birthdays of our founders and patrons

This week we are celebrating the 90th birthdays of founders and patrons of the Oxford Trust and Science Oxford, Sir Martin and Lady Audrey Wood. The Oxfordshire charities they founded, and continue to support – The Oxford Trust, Earth Trust, Wild Oxfordshire and the Sylva Foundation – are marking the occasion in conjunction with the University of Oxford’s Department of Physics and Department of Plant Sciences, which have also received significant support from the Woods over the years. The organisations will celebrate the couple’s generous patronage and the impact of their philanthropy on environmental and science innovation causes in Oxfordshire and beyond.

A partnership of 60 years

Martin and Audrey Wood met while they were students at Cambridge and married in 1955. Shortly after their marriage they moved to Oxford where Martin began work as a Senior Research Officer at the Department of Physics, Clarendon Laboratory. He was involved in designing and building some of the world’s first superconducting magnets, which were sought-after for use in a variety of scientific equipment.

The University’s first spin-out company

Realising the commercial potential of his research area at the time, the Woods founded Oxford Instruments in 1959. The University of Oxford’s first spin-out company was established in a garden shed but went on to become a huge commercial success. Superconducting magnets were in demand for MRI scanners all over the world, and in 1983 the company floated on the stock market to enable them to fund operational expansion to meet their demand.

The sale of Oxford Instruments enabled the couple to found and fund many science and environmental organisations across Oxfordshire – many of which have a had a huge impact locally, regionally, and nationally.

The Woods’ philanthropy

Passionate about conservation and sustainability, they founded the Northmoor Trust for Countryside Conservation in 1982, which became the Earth Trust in 2011. In the early 1980s, the charity bought Little Wittenham Wood and iconic Wittenham Clumps and started managing the area for the benefit of both wildlife and people. The Clumps have become the most visited public greenspace in the region and the land at Little Wittenham now extends to 1,200 acres.

In 1985, the Woods founded The Oxford Trust with a mission to encourage their other passions – the pursuit of science and enterprise. The Wood’s experience of creating Oxford Instruments enabled them to appreciate the challenges that faced fledgling companies trying to get started and find suitable premises in Oxford. In 1986, they bought a builders’ yard in Osney Mead and opened the Science and Technology Enterprise Project (STEP) Centre for tech start-ups. It was the first innovation centre in the region and a catalyst for Oxfordshire’s flourishing ecosystem of innovation incubators and science parks we see today. For more information on the history of the Trust, see here.

The Woods also founded two further environmental charities – the Sylva Foundation, which aims to help Britain’s trees and woodlands thrive for people and for nature, and Wild Oxfordshire, a local conservation charity.

In addition, they have been generous supporters of the University of Oxford’s Department of Physics, where Martin began his career, providing important funding for new buildings, including the Martin Wood Lecture Theatre Complex completed in 2000 – the focal point for all the department’s educational activities. They also created an endowment for the Wood Professorship of Forest Science and support Oxford’s leadership in this area. For their many contributions and continued support, the Woods were invited to become members of the prestigious Oxford Chancellors Court of Benefactors. The Court meets each autumn in Oxford and offers benefactors the chance to engage with the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and other senior leaders, within the collegiate University.

All these organisations continue to thrive and will celebrate the involvement and support of Sir Martin and Lady Audrey Wood over the next week. Follow our Twitter campaign @TheOxfordTrust which highlights the impact of the Trust has had on science and innovation across the region.