Old Possum’s Practical Trust
Valerie Eliot founded Old Possum’s Practical Trust in January 1990. While its primary purpose has been ‘to increase knowledge and appreciation of any matters of historic, artistic, architectural, literary, musical or theatrical interest’, Mrs Eliot concentrated on literary, educational and theatrical endeavours, as do the present Trustees.
Mrs Eliot endowed the Trust in 2001 with funds from the hugely successful musical Cats, which is still playing today some twenty-eight years after it first opened in London. The Trust today has assets valued at around £10M and gives away approximately £250K per year.
Since it was formed the Trust has given away just over £7M to many varied causes including capital donations to Newnham College and the London Library.
T. S. Eliot was a lifelong supporter of the London Library and its President from 1952 to his death in 1965. In his inauguration speech he claimed ‘that if this library disappeared, it would be a disaster to the world of letters, and would leave a vacancy that no other form of library could fill’. Valerie Eliot herself worked in the London Library, compiling and editing a complete edition of T. S. Eliot’s letters, and was committed to maintaining the Library for future generations of readers and scholars. To that end she made a donation in 2008 of £2.5M to finance the new T. S. Eliot Wing, built to house the ever-expanding library, its archive and conservation staff. Mrs Eliot was made a Vice-President of the Library in recognition of her support.
Mrs Eliot was awarded an honorary doctorate at Newnham College for her editorial work on the facsimile edition of The Waste Land and the volumes of Collected Letters, and it was to this institution that she awarded £1.1M in January 2012 to fund a ‘Valerie Eliot Fellow in English Studies’.
Her love of the theatre and support for new actors, directors and playwrights led to a collaboration with the Old Vic, London, by way of sponsoring an annual US/UK exchange which launched in Spring 2010, enabling fifty young industry hopefuls to spend a week with their transatlantic counterparts, exploring their talent and building up peer networks. Lending T. S. Eliot’s name to the exchange Mrs Eliot hoped that the link with Eliot would not only remind the public of T. S. Eliot’s significant work as a playwright, but perhaps inspire and inform generations to come.
The Trust went on to fund HighTide, a group of young directors and playwrights, for five years, giving them the springboard to obtain Arts Council Funding and develop the HighTide Festival, based in Aldeburgh.
The Trust also funded Shakespeare for Schools for a number of years and was also one of the initial funders of the hugely successful ‘First Story’, a landmark initiative which allowed creative writing to be taught in state schools across the UK.
It also provides support for the T. S. Eliot International Summer School, founded in 2009 to encourage students in the unrestricted study of Eliot’s works with distinguished international scholars. Students from thirty-three nations have attended the School as it approaches its tenth anniversary.
Mrs Eliot’s support for the arts encompassed donations to institutions as diverse as the V & A, Garsington, London Children’s Ballet, British Youth Opera, Chickenshed, The National Theatre and The National Portrait Gallery, and she took a wide interest in the cultural life of the UK, particularly wishing to foster and encourage her deep love of poetry amongst the young.
Old Possums Practical Trust will carry on Mrs Eliot’s charitable work, devoting itself to the causes that she loved and wished to help.