Rowntree A-Z

Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust

The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Limited was founded (as the Joseph Rowntree Social Service Trust Ltd) in 1904 by Joseph Rowntree.  He created the Trust as a tax-paying company in order to advance the non-charitable aspects of his vision of society, with the aim of “influencing public thought in right channels” and ensuring “legislation is influenced by the spirit of human brotherhood and alive to the claims of social justice”.

Joseph Rowntree was determined that the high-minded Liberal press should not be squeezed out by its Tory rivals, and the Trust acquired various national and regional liberal newspapers. On becoming Trust Chair in 1938, Seebohm Rowntree scaled down subsidies to the press and initiated direct grants to the Liberal Party, making the Trust the party’s largest long-term benefactor in the post-1945 era. It has also supported individual politicians or groups promoting liberal ideas and policies from all the major parties in the UK.

The Trust also continued its focus on social research. After the war, the Acton Society Trust was created to analyse the implications of the welfare state for liberty and the individual. Support was also forthcoming for the development of a university in York culminating in a £150,000 grant, the gift of Heslington Hall and a substantial amount of land on which the university was built.

In order to improve the quality of parliamentary opposition, the Trust introduced a scheme for financing assistants (‘Chocolate Soldiers’) of leading front benchers in the House of Commons, a scheme formally taken up by the Wilson government in 1974. Another innovation was providing accommodation for several single-issue pressure groups in the 1970s/80s at 9 Poland Street, described by the press as the centre for ‘the counter-civil service’.

Since the 1970s, the Trust has championed constitutional issues such as Scottish and Welsh devolution and English regional government. It also set up the Power Inquiry in 2004 in partnership with the JR Charitable Trust. It has continued to support work on the reform of political party funding, the House of Lords and changes to the voting system including the AV Yes campaign.

Concerns about the erosion of individual liberty has led the Trust to support groups fighting against the introduction of I.D. cards, the database state, the re-emergence of extreme right-wing parties and for the right to peaceful protest. The Trust has supported pro-choice campaigns to modernise abortion legislation in the UK and campaigns against the objectification of women.  More recently the Trust has returned to the theme of the press and supported Hacked Off’s campaign for the implementation of Lord Leveson’s recommendations.

External Links

A complete list of JRRT Directors, short biographies of the original Rowntree Directors and more information about the Trust’s history up to 2004 and more recent grants can be found on

Support Us

Our work is enabled by grant funding from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, and the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. If you would like to make a financial donation to further support our work, it is easy to pay online (with or without Gift Aid) by clicking the link below. You can get in touch with us about other ways of giving via