In memory of Sir Martin Wood – founder of The Oxford Trust
It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Sir Martin Wood (1927–2021), co-founder of The Oxford Trust with his wife, Lady Audrey.
Martin joined the University of Oxford’s Department of Physics in 1955, where his research on resistive high-field (super conducting) magnets established a technology that became highly sought after and enabled Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to be developed. This led to him founding, with his wife Audrey, Oxford Instruments, the University’s first – and some say most successful – spin out. The company originally operated out of their garden shed but grew rapidly and is now a FTSE 250 company with an annual revenue of £300M.
The company was floated on the stock market in 1983 and provided Martin and Audrey an opportunity to support the interests that were important to them. They transformed from successful business entrepreneurs to prodigious philanthropists, including founding and supporting environmental charities such as Earth Trust and Sylva Foundation. One of their key passions was innovation.
The Wood’s experience of setting up their own company from their garden shed in Northmoor Road in Oxford enabled them to understand the challenges that faced young entrepreneurs. They saw how hard it was for fledgling companies to get started and find suitable premises. In 1985, they set up The Oxford Trust to “encourage the pursuit of science and enterprise”. In the first year they bought an old builders’ yard on Osney Island and started the Science and Technology Enterprise Project (or STEP) Centre to help tech start-ups take their first steps towards commercialisation. It was the first innovation centre in the UK and was the key catalyst for Oxfordshire’s ecosystem of innovation incubators and science parks that we see today.
One of the early companies to put down roots in the STEP Centre was Oxford Computer Consultants, started by Dr John Boyle who, on receiving the news of Martin’s death, said: “Today I lost a hero. A man whose work, alongside Audrey’s, improved the health of countless people and created opportunities for many more. Without his vision to create The STEP Centre my own career might never have got off the ground. For three years, he would turn up weekly at events at our first innovation centre and would talk to everybody as if they were his peer. He had wonderful modesty and disliked it if people took themselves over-seriously. He would guide rather than instruct but was not afraid to call time on bad business ideas and companies.” John is now the Trust’s Chair of the Board of Trustees helping to ensure Martin’s legacy continues.
Oxford Computer Consultants wasn’t the only company that was given support by Martin and Audrey and The Oxford Trust. The charity has been running innovation centres in Oxford for the last 36 years and has helped literally hundreds of science and tech start-ups – enabling them to establish themselves as successful operations employing thousands of people.
Aside from supporting science and tech companies, Martin and Audrey were always passionate about encouraging young people in STEM – science, technology, engineering and maths. This led to the Trust’s creation of an extensive schools’ programme under the Science Oxford brand. Today, Science Oxford delivers an exciting STEM outreach programme to primary and secondary schools in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire and runs the Science Oxford Centre, the UK’s first indoor-outdoor hands-on science education centre for primary school children. Each year the team reaches well over 20,000 students, 600 teachers and hundreds of families.
The Trust’s CEO Steve Burgess reflects on Sir Martin’s legacy and enduring influence. “Throughout my 8 years as CEO of the Trust, Martin and Audrey have always been incredibly supportive and involved in the organisation and its plans challenging and encouraging when needed most – most recently with the development of the Wood Centre for Innovation and the adjoining Science Oxford Centre in Headington. As you will see from the photos, they came and saw the site under construction, cut the red ribbon for the grand opening and were ‘the stars’ of the public launch event in the summer of 2019. As many of you know, the Ohm statue, designed to reflect their pioneering superconducting work, outside the Wood Centre for Innovation is a tribute to the Woods on their 90th birthdays and all they’ve done for science and innovation in Oxfordshire.
Through The Oxford Trust, Martin and Audrey have made an incredible impact on today’s entrepreneurial landscape and in science education across our region. The Trust remains true to their guiding mission to “encourage the pursuit of science and enterprise” and we will continue Martin, and Audrey’s, legacy for decades to come: to inspire young children about the wonders of science and to help science and tech start-ups to develop and grow.
I know from all the messages that I’ve received that Martin will be sorely missed by those that have worked for the Trust and by the many whose lives were embellished by his generosity – a generosity of spirit, of time, and ideas. He was an inspiration to us all and will be greatly missed.”
Our thoughts are with Audrey and the family.
Trustees & Staff of The Oxford Trust