History of the Trust

Mr Walter Reginald Steel and Mrs Marjorie Maud Steel were a Luton couple with significant individual estates, originating from land interests in and around the town. In the 1920s, Mr Steel, together with his future wife’s father, Mr Arthur J. Powdrill, and his business partner, Mr Frederick J. Manning, recognised that Luton was set to expand and that housing would be needed. Over the next decade or so, they started to purchase large parcels of agricultural land north-east of the town which, over the latter years, was sold to developers. Mr Thomas Wright, a chartered accountant, provided professional services to the Steel and Powdrill families.

In the mid-1970s, Mr Nicholas Wright, Thomas’s son and by then an adviser to the family, realised that neither Mr nor Mrs Steel had made wills. With no children to inherit, Nicholas made some recommendations to Mr and Mrs Steel and, as a result, they agreed to form a charitable trust with a nominal amount of capital, and to make wills so that the estate of each of them would be left to the other, and then finally to the Trust. Thus, The Steel Charitable Trust was created on 15th February 1976 with the modest sum of £100, with Mr and Mrs Steel and Nicholas Wright as Trustees.

After the death of her husband in January 1983, Mrs Steel inherited his estate and, in October 1985 added £500,000 to the capital of the Trust so that it could become active during her lifetime. In April 1986 she also gifted her interests, including those which she had inherited from her husband, in the three land interests to the Trust, at which point the Trust had inherited all the interests previously owned by Mr Steel and one half of the interests previously owned by her parents. She retired as a Trustee on 28 November 1995.

In addition to the cash injection provided by Mrs Steel and her gifts of her interests in approximately 250 acres of freehold land around Luton during her lifetime, the Trust inherited a further sum of £650,000, being the residue of her estate. In 1986, 100 acres of land was sold and the Trust benefited by over £11m.

The Trust deed gives the Trustees the freedom to spend income and capital, as they think fit, and to support a broad canvas of charitable activities, for both specific projects and core costs, at their discretion. The Trustees review their investment, spending and grant-making strategies every few years.

Currently, the Trustees’ priorities are towards charitable work in these five core categories:

Arts and Heritage | Education | Environment
Health | Social or Economic Disadvantage

Applications are accepted from all parts of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, benefiting communities round the country (and occasionally abroad). As a Lutonian, Mrs Steel was keen to ensure that her legacy brought benefits to the town and so applications for Luton and the wider Bedfordshire are encouraged. To strengthen this commitment to the town further, the Luton Matters initiative was launched in 2019.

Please read our grant-making policy to find out more, and check your eligibility to apply.
You can read a little more about the Steel and Powdrill families here.

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