No-one would ever have thought the closure of Audlem Grammar School (Vicarage Lane) in 1965 would turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
This grade II* listed building was built 1652- 1655 and founded by private subscription, by way of a legacy from (locally born parliamentarian) Sir Francis Gamull and also William Dod ( with one "d" -- a former owner, occupier of Highfields -- just outside Audlem).
On completion, it was run as a free grammar school for boys for the next two and a half centuries -- before closing under a Charity Commissioner's scheme on 26th September 1908.
In 1910 the fund's assets, which included the school buildings, were taken over by the Local Authority – then Cheshire County Council. From 1913 the Local Authority used the building as a mixed secondary modern school, until it ceased to be used as a school altogether in 1965.
Upon its closure, the building was earmarked for demolition, until several prominent Parish Councillors of their time ; Derek McKelvey, Arthur Huntbach, Frank Goodwin (and others), successfully lobbied the County Council to keep it intact.
The County Council, were still the official trustees of the fund at that point, rather than the asset owners, The Parish Councillors persuaded the Local Authority that the trust fund essentially belonged to the village, due to the fact that the building had been privately funded (albeit in 1655), and that the Council had never legally purchased it.
It was successfully argued that the fund's original objective was expressly to promote the education and learning of the village's children -- and that the fund should, and could, continue as long as these aims were still being met.
The County Council agreed -- not least because it made the sale of the asset much easier if it transferred it out of its current trustee status .As a result, the County Council made a payment for the value of the asset (ie. the building & land) to form a new educational trust fund for the same purpose. Thus today's Audlem Education Foundation (AEF) was created.
Extracts taken from Council minutes at the time :
"The old County Council,(Finance and General Purposes Committee -- 13.3.72) decided with the consent of the Department of Education and Science, to transfer the building from themselves in their role as trustees to themselves in their role of Local Planning Authority. This took place at the District Valuer's valuation of £8,500, which was paid into the Foundation's account. This cleared off the Education Trust, making it easier for the County Council to sell the property on the open market, and the property was eventually auctioned in October 1972.
"The sale of the school and changes in social conditions meant that some of the objects of the 1910 scheme were defunct and on 18.6.73, the Finance and General Purposes Committee of the old County Council resolved that this scheme be revoked and a new scheme with a new list of benefits be made within the spirit of the 1910 scheme The scheme was drawn up in consultation with the Department of Education and Science and was established by the Secretary Of State on 7 December 1973."
"The £8,500 paid into the Foundation's account was added to the assets of the Foundation in place of the property sold and invested in appropriate trustee securities"
The same Parish Councillors also fought hard to ensure that local representation was in the majority on the new fund's working committee, and Derek McKelvey became the AEF's first Chairman after it was formed in 1973.
The old school building was put up for auction by Cheshire County Council on 18th October 1972. It is believed that it did not sell at this point, but was bought privately a number of years later -- after which it was converted into a nursing home.
The funds were initially invested directly by the AEF Committee and at first the distribution from the fund was a modest £1200 per annum. However, as the members would later admit, more by luck than judgement, they had partially invested funds in the South Staffordshire Water Authority.
As a result of this decision, the fund rocketed to £400,000 in the late eighties, when the Water Authority was privatised. Thus ensuring annual dividends of around £6000 for distribution at that time.
Due to the substantial money involved, it was subsequently decided that a more professional, and measured, approach to the investment was required -- in order to protect the large funds that had suddenly amassed.
Recent Times :
Today the fund is held, ring-fenced and professionally managed, by investment specialists Cazenove Capital.
It currently stands well in excess of £750,000 yielding around £10 000 p.a. .An additional £50,000 held in cash, is also ring-fenced in Cheshire East's bank account for contingencies i.e. for when returns are low -- or award payments are exceptionally high (or both). Any cash surplus is annually reviewed for potential re-investment, or further distribution within the guidelines.
Its current status is that it has one trustee (overseen by The Charity Commission), which is Cheshire East Council, but is operated via the AEF Committee. The AEF Committee is an independent body, and not part of the Parish Council -- nor is it connected to any other village committee, or organisation. It is made up of five appointed local, unpaid residents (plus one local clerk) and one Cheshire East Council representative (who is also local).
The AEF committee meets three times a year to review applications for educational & apprenticeship support, and/or, assistance with elite sport participation. It is NOT a means tested grant -- it is intended to be accessible to all young people under the age of 25 years, with a permanent residence in the " Ancient Parish of Audlem" -- which includes Hankelow, Buerton, Coxbank, Swanbach, Lightwood Green, Kinsey Heath and Wilkesley etc.
An important part of the fund's work has also been to support Audlem Primary School with projects that are outside of normal Government funding. This year, due to surplus funds built up during the pandemic, the AEF made an extraordinary award payment of £10,000 for school books, specifically aimed at a "COVID catch up" initiative. In previous years it has paid towards the costs of teaching equipment, computers, nature projects and pupil well-being programmes.
The AEF committee members themselves do not have direct access to the fund (nor any personal financial information of the applicants), but do have the decision-making authority -- in line with the Trust's guidelines and rules. The fund can only be accessed via Cheshire East Council following instructions from the AEF committee. Whilst funds can be adversely affected by economic downturns, it has, over time, enjoyed continued growth -- as demonstrated above. The fund enjoys the dual, side by side, protection of both the AEF committee, and the Local Authority. So the village can be confident of the continued preservation of these funds, and its benefits, for many future generations to come.
Judy Evans -- Clerk to the Audlem Education Foundation.