Partnership of sixty plus years
Martin and Audrey Wood met while they were students at Cambridge and were married in 1955. Martin was an engineer whose early passion had been mining. He had spent time as a Bevin boy in the Welsh coalmines and (briefly) became a management trainee in the British Coal Industry of the mid-1950s. Martin was fascinated by industry and his experience with the Coal Board made him question how the industrial experience could be improved.
Shortly after their marriage Audrey and Martin moved to Oxford where Martin began work as Senior Research Officer in the Clarendon Laboratory at the University. 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 superconducting magnets, Martin and Audrey founded Oxford Instruments in 1959. The University’s first spin-out company was established in the Woods’ garden shed on Northmoor Road. Martin had the experience and expertise in science, engineering and innovation and Audrey finance, law, administration and marketing. Together, a dynamic combination of skills. It is a combination that made Oxford Instruments a huge commercial success.
Superconducting magnets became in high demand globally for MRI scanners and in 1983 the company floated on the stock market to enable them to fund operational expansion to meet that demand.
The sale of Oxford Instruments provided Martin and Audrey with a different kind of opportunity – an opportunity to give something back – to invest their passion and resources in to supporting the interests that were important to them. They transformed from business entrepreneurs to prodigious philanthropists.
Setting up the Trust
Their experience of creating and growing a spin-out company from scratch enabled Martin and Audrey 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 – or 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. We now run the Oxford Centre for Innovation – OCFI – which provides flexible office and networking space for 40 science and tech start-ups. We also create and support projects that put science and enterprise at the heart our region, such as Science Oxford, Venturefest Oxford, IF Oxford, the science & ideas festival, the Enterprise Awards and much, much more.
Inspiring the next generation
Audrey had been a school governor and observed that too few students were opting to study science subjects and maths, put off by uninspired teaching and a lack of resources. She wanted young people to get switched on to science and to encourage them to consider careers in STEM. As a result, the Trust created an extensive schools programme which is still run today by our amazing Science Oxford schools team. Annually, our education programme reaches over 20,000 pupils in primary and secondary schools and supports 350 teachers through CPD training. Science Oxford also runs a vibrant programme of events, including interactive workshops, theatre shows, talks and science camps to inspire people of all ages about science and the world around them.
You can see all the Trust has achieved over the past thirty plus years here. Later this year, we will open a new chapter with the development of our new Science Oxford Centre and the adjoining Wood Centre for Innovation (named after our patrons) at Stansfeld Park, Oxford. This ambitious and exciting new development will enable us to engage more young people in science, inspire more teachers; and add capacity to Oxford’s dynamic innovation ecosystem. What a legacy!
You can download the Woods’ 90th celebration brochure here. And you can watch this short film to see the impact Martin and Audrey have had through the organisations they have founded and funded.