Harry Birrell, who gave his name to our charity, taught for more than 30 years in the Eastern Cape and embodied the best of values shared between the countries of South Africa and the British Isles. As a young man he was a first class sportsman playing cricket and rugby alongside Colin Cowdrey and M.J.K. Smith at Oxford University. As a teacher he coached children’s sport at both school and provincial level. What however was Harry’s greatest talent was his wonderful perception of those around him and his ability to give someone a chance. That is exactly what the Friends of the Trust seek to achieve. Harry happily was alive to witness the first fruits of the Trust, and his family has continued to support the Trust, with his wife Sylvia and son Adrian Birrell remaining actively involved.
friends of the trust
“As an elderly man I dream that their project will come into being, and that some of these scholars will one day become Rhodes or Douglas Smith Scholars.”
Harry Birrell (May 1997)
The Trust was initially formed around a group of friends from Oxford University, who had experienced the wonderful education St Andrew's College in South Africa gave to children, and had been influenced by the educational work of Harry Birrell. The Trust then expanded into an even wider circle of Friends of the Trust; a group of people drawn together through a desire to make a difference in the lives of those that need and deserve our support.
The biggest helping hand came via the 1989 British & Irish Lions rugby tourists, who helped launch the Trust with a reunion rugby match against Oxbridge XV in Oxford in May 1997. The programme for the day can be viewed in our archive. The match, which took place on the same day the 1997 British & Irish Lions departed for its tour of South Africa, combined with the funds raised from a luncheon and Dinner helped put the Trust on the map.
Twelve years later, the launch of the Patron's Fund once again transformed the Trust. This took place, at the gracious consent of Her Majesty the Queen, at St James’s Palace in July 2009. The Trust’s patron, Peter Phillips, provided a substantial personal donation to initiate the Patron’s Fund, which enabled the Trust to expand the number of Harry Birrell scholars. The Patron’s Fund continues to serve as the Trust’s flagship fundraising vehicle, particularly for those wishing to make a one-off material donation to the Trust.
An equally important source of funding for the Trust’s activities in the long term ismore modest monthly covenant payments, and in recent years Friends of the Trust have been encouraged to assemble together in shadow sporting teams, in order to pool resources in support of the Harry Birrell Scholars. A Birrell XI donor team, with each of the 11 team members committing to a £100 donation, goes a long way to financing a single Birrell Scholar in South Africa. So far we have several Birrell XI donor teams in place, a rugby sized touring squad and a Rowing VIII crew syndicate in progress.
Who was Harry Birrell?
Harry Birrell, who gave his name to our charity and was its inspiration, taught for more than 30 years in the Eastern Cape and embodied the best of values shared between the countries of South Africa and the British Isles. Harry was educated at St Andrew’s College and Rhodes University in South Africa before going on to Lincoln College, Oxford, where he gained both cricket and rugby blues. He was a first class sportsman playing cricket and rugby alongside Colin Cowdrey and M.J.K. Smith.
As a teacher he coached children’s sport at both school and provincial level. What however was Harry’s greatest talent was his wonderful perception of those around him and his ability to give someone a chance. His special gift was to inspire young people to make a success of their lives. We hope to continue this development of talent through the Trust.
"Harry Birrell was an extraordinary man who shared his life generously with many"
Stephen Sparrow, HBST Chairman