This year, Sir Martin and Lady Audrey Wood, the founders of Oxford Instruments and prolific philanthropists in the fields of enterprise, the environment and education, celebrate their 90th birthdays. The Oxfordshire charities they founded, and continue to support – The Oxford Trust, Earth Trust, Wild Oxfordshire and the Sylva Foundation – are marking the occasion in conjunction with the University of Oxford's Department of Physics and Department of Plant Sciences, which have also received significant support from the Woods over the years. The organisations will celebrate the couple's generous patronage and the impact of their philanthropy on environmental and science innovation causes in Oxfordshire and beyond.
There will be a special commemorative film, made by an Earth Trust apprentice, and a celebration booklet – both of which highlight the significant impact of the Woods' benefaction in the county. And, each of the organisations involved will run individual social media campaigns to celebrate their 90th year.
Martin and Audrey Wood met while they were students at Cambridge and married in 1955. Shortly afterwards they moved to Oxford where Martin began work as a Senior Research Officer at the Department of Physics, Clarendon Laboratory, building some of the first superconducting magnets.
Realising the commercial potential of his research area at the time, the Woods founded Oxford Instruments in 1959. The University of Oxford's first spin-out company was established in a garden shed but went on to become a huge commercial success. Superconducting magnets were in demand for MRI scanners all over the world, and in 1984 the company floated on the stock market. This enabled the couple to found and fund many science and environmental organisations across Oxfordshire – many of which have had a huge impact locally, regionally and nationally.
The Woods' philanthropic history in the county is prodigious. Passionate about conservation and sustainability, they founded the Northmoor Trust for Countryside Conservation (NTCC) in 1982, which became the Earth Trust in 2011. In the early 1980s, the charity acquired the Little Wittenham Wood and iconic Wittenham Clumps and started managing the area for the benefit of both wildlife and people. The Clumps have become the most visited public greenspace in the region and the land at Little Wittenham now extends to 1,200 acres. The Earth Trust also runs a conservation farming operation, education programmes and year-round events.
In 1985, following the flotation of Oxford Instruments, the Woods founded The Oxford Trust with a mission to encourage their other passions – the pursuit of science and enterprise. The Wood's experience of creating Oxford Instruments enabled them to appreciate the challenges that faced fledgling companies trying to get started and find suitable premises in Oxford. In 1986, they bought a builders' yard in Osney Mead and opened the Science and Technology Enterprise Project (STEP) Centre for tech start-ups. It was the first innovation centre in the region and a catalyst for Oxfordshire's flourishing ecosystem of innovation incubators and science parks we see today.
The Woods also founded two further environmental charities – the Sylva Foundation, which aims to help Britain's trees and woodlands thrive for people and for nature, and Wild Oxfordshire, a local conservation charity.
In addition, they have been generous supporters of the University of Oxford's Department of Physics, where Martin began his career, providing important funding for new buildings, including the Martin Wood Lecture Theatre Complex completed in 2000 – the focal point for all the department's educational activities. They also created an endowment for the Wood Professorship of Forest Science and support Oxford's leadership in this area. For their many contributions and continued support, the Woods were invited to become members of the prestigious Oxford Chancellors Court of Benefactors. The Court meets each autumn in Oxford and offers benefactors the chance to engage with the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and other senior leaders, within the collegiate University.