It is now over 20 years since the SWCF was founded after the untimely death of Dr Simon Wolff, aged 38. At the time of his death Dr Wolff had already made significant contributions to science within the fields of diabetes and free radicals, as well as being an active participant in the campaign for better public transport in the UK.
A fund to further research in the fields in which Dr Wolff was active was launched at his Memorial Service in April 1996. Over the following months it was decided to broaden the scope of the fund and to apply for charitable status. We became an officially approved UK charity in August 1996.
Donations from many well-wishers in the early years, the invaluable contributions of a few regular donors and the efforts of unpaid Trustees have enabled the charity to campaign, fund and promote activities, research and education in the following areas:
- Transport and health
- Alternatives to cars
- Science travel grants at university level
- Science prizes at school and university level
Part of the remit of the SWCF was to communicate with the wider community about scientific, transport and public health issues. In the first ten years or so, information bulletins were typed up, photographs pasted in by hand and the resulting documents taken to a printing company. Boxes of leaflets were picked up a week later, and the following evenings were spent stuffing envelopes and sticking on stamps. Carrier bags full of envelopes were taken to the local post office and over the coming days the bulletins would be delivered by Royal Mail. How times have changed! Now we have our own website and we communicate with the world by email. The Trustees are unanimously agreed that we do not miss all that stamp licking.
Like many small charities, the SWCF has been run by idealists on a shoestring budget. From the outset we realized we were never going to be in the same league as national charities with generous advertising budgets and full-time, paid staff. Although our contributions may be quite modest on a national scale, we are nonetheless proud of what we have managed to achieve.
Activities and achievements
The SWCF has
- commissioned and co-funded a report by Professor John Whitelegg on the Thames Gateway Crossing to show that a new bridge would not deliver regeneration, economic revitalization and job creation for local communities.
- given expert evidence at a major transport inquiry in London into the Thames Gateway Crossing. The scheme was for a motorway-sized road bridge which would have greatly increased traffic in residential areas. It also posed a tremendous threat to Oxleas Wood, one of the few remaining ancient woodlands in London. Using professional statistical analysis, the SWCF dissected the road builders’ own figures and showed that on the whole areas with few major roads, like the London Borough of Richmond, are more prosperous with little unemployment, while areas crisscrossed with major roads like Tower Hamlets are poor and with high unemployment. We exposed a number of contradictions in the road builders’ case, and other objectors also presented cogent expert information. After weeks of deliberation, the Inspector at the public inquiry ruled against the motorway bridge and in favour of the protestors. This decision was highly unusual, and a tremendous boost for organisations campaigning for better public transport.
- funded a major transport pollution study in collaboration with Birmingham University into air quality in urban areas.
- written many letters to local authorities and other organisations on public transport issues.
- set up a system of awarding travel grants to young scientists in the fields of diabetes, free radicals and public health.
- received and evaluated numerous grant applications.
- awarded travel grants to young scientists wishing to present their ideas to an international audience and to learn from face-to-face communication with experts in their fields.
- published reports from the recipients of travel grants to disseminate their ideas to the general public.
- made three non-monetary awards for contrarian ideas within academia, for which Dr Wolff was well known.
- made a Motivation for Science award to a local authority school engaging pupils in an innovative manner.
- made book awards to sixth formers at Dr Wolff’s old school (Rugby School) who combined scientific endeavour with an outstanding interest in communicating ideas.
The end of an era
It has gradually become clear to the Trustees that the charity has achieved as much as is possible with the limited resources at our disposal. Further work would require considerable fund-raising and recruitment of new Trustees with the time and expertise to move the charity forward. Regretfully, we have decided that it is now time for the charity to close, and for residual funds to be transferred to other organisations working within the fields with which the SWCF has been associated.
The digital footprint of the SWCF will not be disappearing, however. The SWCF website will remain active for many years to come. Over the coming months we will be publishing information about the charities receiving residual SWCF funds. We will also be posting a final travel grant report from a young scientist going to Shanghai this summer with the assistance of the SWCF to attend the triennial World Conference on Transport Research.
In many ways this travel grant is a fitting final tribute to Dr Wolff and the truly international spirit of his research. He supported several young Chinese scientists coming to Britain in the 1980s and 1990s, and visited Shanghai himself in 1985. He would very much have appreciated the fact that the final recipient of a SWCF travel grant is a young scientist who is doing research on the interplay between public health and public transport policy, and who is very keen to communicate with experts and peers on the international stage. Science, transport and health, politics in action, communication – everything the SWCF has stood for.
Thank you for your interest and support over the last 20 years.
The Trustees of the Simon Wolff Charitable Foundation