About Us

Brief History

Joseph Rowntree (1836-1925) was a Quaker, a Liberal and a successful businessman. In 1859 he took over his father's grocery shop in York and ten years later he joined his younger brother in the modest cocoa factory on the right bank of the Ouse which was to become the major concern known as Rowntree. He transferred to a new factory on the outskirts of York in 1891. It provided excellent facilities and he pursued enlightened policies for his employees.

Contrary to his personal expectations, Joseph Rowntree became rich in later life as the Rowntree business flourished. In 1904, with the consent of his family, he transferred a substantial part of his wealth to the three trusts with which his name is still associated.

Sister Trusts

Information on the activities of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) (with which the Trust shares the Garden House premises) and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) can be found on the joint portal website.

JRCT and JRF are entirely independent of JRRT in terms of their Trustees, staff, finances and policies.

The Religious Society of Friends

Joseph Rowntree was a life-long member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). At this time, one Director is a Quaker and it is a priority in this round of recruitment to increase the number of Quakers on the Board.

Although there is no formal link with the Religious Society of Friends and no religious orientation is needed to be a Director or member of staff, it is expected that everyone associated with the Trust will share sympathy for Quaker values which can be expressed as recognising the uniqueness and importance of each human being; and seeking to work towards a better world. In the words of William Penn “True godliness don’t turn men out of the world but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavours to mend it.”

Further information about Quakers and their values can be found on their website.

Party political funding and the Liberal Democrats

The Trust is not committed to the policies of any one political party, and has supported individual politicians or groups promoting new ideas and policies from all the major parties in the UK. Direct party support has, however, been given when the Directors have judged that particular political developments should be fostered, especially those central to a healthy democratic process such as constitutional and electoral reform. In general, the Trust’s political grants aim to encourage a positive exchange of views and ideas amongst those involved in the political process, to redress the balance of financial inequality between the parties and to stimulate radical change.

The Trust has supported the Liberal Party and its successor, the Liberal Democrats, since 1940. Joseph Rowntree was a committed Liberal and, together with other members of his family and associates, effectively controlled the local association and the Liberal group on York council in the Edwardian era, as well as being influential in surrounding areas. However, support has been offered to the Liberal Democrats and its predecessor parties, not just because of the Trust’s liberal roots, but in order to redress the imbalance of financial support which the Liberal Democrats suffer as a third party.

Currently six members of the board are party members. However, the board and staff include/have included people of other parties and of no political affiliation.

What we do

The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd is a tax-paying, limited company based in York which makes grants for political, campaigning or lobbying purposes that are ineligible for charitable funding.

Our Values

Our values are rooted in liberalism and Quakerism. Recognising the equal worth of every person, we stand for the defence of liberty, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom from all forms of oppression, be that political, religious, economic or social.

Our Strategic Vision

We seek to bring about significant changes in the political system, making it more accountable, democratic and transparent and to rebalance power for the well-being of society.

Our Aims

The Trust seeks to:

  • correct imbalances of power, supporting the voice of the individual, the small and weak where that voice is stifled by the group, the big and strong;
  • strengthen the hand of individuals, groups and organisations who are striving for reform, speaking truth to power and challenging the systems that hinder justice;
  • address the underlying causes of weakness and injustice in the body politic rather than remedying its superficial manifestations;
  • foster creative intervention by anticipating and brokering change within the body politic;
  • support a politically plural society by helping to correct the financial imbalance between the major parties;
  • assist political liberals from all the major parties in the UK to promote new liberal ideas and policies.


We will endeavour to meet our aims by:

  • supporting causes, people or organisations where they share our values even when currently they may find little favour with mainstream opinion;
  • supporting our grantees with more than money to create a supportive community of shared belief;
  • being responsive and flexible, allowing us to adapt our priorities to the needs of our time;
  • recognising that whilst the Trust might risk its money and reputation in its grant-making, those it supports often risk very much more;
  • supporting those who have identified the point where the minimum amount of thrust will have the maximum effect.

Our website carries more information about the grants we have awarded.

Group Structure & Finances

The Trust is a company limited by guarantee which pays corporation tax, enabling it, unlike charitable trusts, to fund or undertake political & non-charitable campaigning work to promote democratic reform, constitutional change, civil liberties and social justice.

The Trust's assets are invested in equity investments and a small portfolio of commercial retail property held by its wholly owned subsidiary company, JRRT (Properties) Limited. From the Trust's present capital of about £45m, Directors allocate a potential grant budget of around £1.2m each year, excluding administrative expenses and tax.

The JRSST Charitable Trust was endowed by The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Limited and only gives charitable grants in areas closely related to the work of the main Trust. It has an equity portfolio worth about £3m, makes grants of up to £75,000 per annum and accepts applications only by interventions.

All Directors of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd are also trustees of The JRSST Charitable Trust and directors of JRRT (Properties) Limited.

Organisational Structure

The Trust is led by a voluntary board of up to ten members (currently there are eight) supported by a small team of staff based predominantly in York. We appointed our first Chief Executive, Fiona Weir in 2016

For individual profiles of the Board - see further reading.

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