The Helen Roll Charity was founded by Jenny Williamson of Ramsden in
Oxfordshire in 1992. Following the death of her mother, Enid Watts, Jenny had
become entitled to a substantial inheritance and she decided to use this to
form a charitable trust capable of helping a wide range of causes, and this
remains in our constitution today.
The money had originated from Jenny’s great- grandfather, Sir James Roll, who
founded the Pearl Assurance Company and Jenny named the Trust after her
grandmother, Lady Helen Roll, who had been largely responsible for her early
Jenny was chair of the original Trustees and many of the first distributions
favoured causes in which she was interested including charities supporting the
homeless, those providing holidays for people who could not otherwise afford
them, small local institutions, causes which found it difficult to obtain funding
from elsewhere and animal charities.
Jenny would interest herself in all the applications, making comments which
led to the creation of a shortlist each year. She was keen to establish how
previous funding had been used and demanded reports. She also liked a
winner and derived great pleasure from discovering that what had originally
appeared to be an unexciting cause, had prospered from the Trust’s ‘seed
corn’ support to the extent that it no longer needed help.
Jenny's husband Dick was equally involved in the Trust and in due course became chair and the driving force behind it. Having graduated in Law from Pembroke College, Oxford, he worked at Morrell, Peale and Gamlin his entire career, retiring after being Head Partner. He took a great interest in supporting various University causes personally and through the Trust.
Jenny died in 2021 and subsequently it has been possible to add funding to the
Trust with further money originating from Pearl. Dick died a year later and donated his inheritance from Jenny to the Trust, which he said were Jenny's wishes. So, the family remains the main benefactor apart from the very welcome contribution from the Joyce Tudge Estate.
The Helen Roll Charity aims to distribute about £200,000 annually between around 30 charities, often continuing to make grants to them over long periods. There is only room for grants to one or two newcomers each year. It gives grants to mainly Oxfordshire and West Suffolk charities, towards specific projects rather than core costs / general expenses. It operates through registered (or exempt) charities and no donations are made directly to individuals. Applications (with bank details) are accepted from 01.12 - 15.02 annually.