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The J.V. Trust – Spiritualism in action – Sue Farrow takes a look at the work – and sometimes unsung achievements – of Spiritualism’s wealthiest charity.

 
You may not have heard of the J.V. Trust, but you’ll almost certainly have heard of the Arthur Findlay College, Stansted Hall. You may even have studied there, or know someone who has. To many around the world it’s the foremost centre of learning for Spiritualism and psychic science – a mecca for students of mediumship and the spiritual life.

Eric Hatton, chairman of the J.V. Trust and former chairman of the Arthur Findlay College.
   

Eric Hatton, chairman of the J.V. Trust and
former chairman of the Arthur Findlay College.
 

What you may not know is that this former home of the great Spiritualist ambassador James Arthur Findlay, gifted to the Spiritualists’ National Union on his passing in 1964, has faced the prospect of closure at least two or three times since its establishment as the AFC. The fact that it’s still open for business and in pretty good shape is in large part down to the generosity of the J.V. Trust.

The trust’s founders, Roy and Christine Wandless, had great affection for the college and are no doubt delighted that their personal generosity has enabled such a unique institution to be rescued in hard times. Though wealthy, they certainly knew hard times themselves.

“Roy and Christine had lost two children, John and Valerie, from cystic fibrosis, and wanted to set up a charity in their memory,” explains the trust’s long-time chairman Eric Hatton. “So the name derives from ‘J’ for John and ‘V’ for Valerie.

“Roy was an accountant with a great interest in the stock market. I think he used to dabble in stocks and shares, and by virtue of that he had made a tidy sum of money.

“He and Christine had a very nice house but otherwise lived quite modestly and awere never inclined to splash out. Their trips to Stansted Hall were part of their holiday routine, so they were familiar with Gordon Higginson and others involved in the courses and seminars there. They also knew Arthur Findlay and had formed a great liking for the place even before he handed it over to the SNU.”

The trust started life with a very modest £600 – a far cry from the more than £8million it has today. Its first trustees were Roy, Christine and their son Alan, who sadly passed to spirit a short time later, also from cystic fibrosis.

These days, its administration is in the safe hands of trustees Eric Hatton, Hugh Davis, Margaret Davis and, since 2012, author and psychical researcher Roy Stemman. Roy has this to say about his new role with the trust:

Roy and Christine Wandless.
Roy and Christine Wandless.

   

“As a trustee of other Spiritualist charities over the years, I am well aware of the need for financial assistance that individuals, churches and organisations have from time to time. I was delighted when the J.V. Trust came to Psychic News’ rescue, after the SNU closed it down, and I was even more delighted when the J.V. Trust invited me to become a trustee.

“I have the greatest admiration for its chairman, Eric Hatton, whom I have known for 50 years or more, and am pleased to be supporting him and the other trustees in their efforts not only to preserve an important Spiritualist publishing venture but also to help many other worthy causes whose needs were anticipated by the trust’s founders.”

The trustees are keen for people to be aware that the J.V. Trust is a charity for all Spiritualists and not, as is sometimes erroneously assumed, for members and churches of the Spiritualists’ National Union only.

Its primary charitable object is the promotion, establishment, spread and advancement of the religion and religious philosophy known as Spiritualism with particular regard for the training of ministers. The promotion and advancement of spiritual healing, and the relief of aged and infirm Spiritualists in need of financial assistance, are further aspects of its mission.

“I had no direct involvement with the trust in its early days,” says Eric. “But my great friend Gordon Higginson had become a trustee and he indicated to me that he hoped it might be able to help people who were unable to afford to come to Stansted Hall, or to pursue their interest in Spiritualism in other ways.”

Gordon’s hope became a reality in the form of the annual J.V. Trust weeks held at AFC, now organised by trustee Margaret Davis.

She told me: “The Spiritualist Lyceum Manual begins with some words entitled

Pass it on. . .

Have you had a kindness shown? Pass it on. Twas not given for you alone. Pass it on.

“It ends with the words – Live for truth, you live again. Live for love, with love you reign.

“The trustees devote many unpaid hours to the trust each week, sifting through applications, legal correspondence and the huge amount of administrative paperwork generated by such a wealthy and active charity.”
   

“Roy and Christine Wandless had a great love for the Arthur Findlay College and it was my choice, over eighteen years ago, to organise the annual J.V. Trust weeks at the college, with the support of my fellow trustees and our team of tutors.

“Each year, the trust sponsors about 75 people so that they can experience some of that love of the spirit, in the place which once made such an impact on Roy and Christine’s lives that they chose to embody within the trust the spirit of Pass it on. This, to me, is what the J.V. Trust is all about.”

The trust may have started out with just a few hundred pounds but when Roy and Christine Wandless passed within a few months of each other, it fell to their solicitor, Margaret Neville, to unravel their complex estate.

“At that stage we had no idea of the large sums of money that would eventually be transferred to the trust,” Eric recalls. “As time went by, it became clear that the estate was worth a significant amount of money. As a consequence, about £2 million was paid into the J.V. Trust account. On Miss Neville’s advice we appointed stockbrokers Farley and Thompson of Bournemouth, who gave us wise guidance, as a result of which the trust’s capital grew steadily.

“To her everlasting credit, Margaret Neville was scrupulously efficient and honest in dealing with the affairs of the J.V. Trust and continued to be so right up until her retirement in 2010. Even today, she retains an interest in its affairs. We are greatly indebted to her for her dedicated work and wise guidance over the years.”

Following Miss Neville’s retirement, the legal affairs of the trust were placed in the hands of Birmingham-based law firm, Shakespeares, and stockbrokers EFG Harris Allday were appointed to handle the investment portfolio. With funds now in excess of £8million, the trust’s future is secure. There are also sums of money more immediately accessible, so that the trustees can make swift disbursements in cases of urgent need.

“We get a large number of applications from churches and individuals,” says Eric. “To date they have received approximately £1,140,000. But obviously, because of the Wandlesses’ affection for the place, the greatest sums of money have gone to the Arthur Findlay College, which has received more than £2million over the years.

“In its early days the college was in a dreadful structural state and so much needed to be done, all of it crying out for money. The roof was in a perilous state, the chimneys were in danger of collapsing. There was also a need for a new water supply, new heating, and a gas supply which had to be brought in from the main road. Then there was the building of new kitchens, a new dining room, new bedrooms and so on.”

The trust also came to the rescue of the SNU when it was in dire straits.
 

Margaret and Hugh Davis    Roy Stemman
Margaret and Hugh Davis. Roy Stemman.

 
“We purchased Redwoods, the SNU’s headquarters on the Stansted estate,” Eric explains. “The SNU owned it, but it was put into hock when they badly needed cash, so we stepped in to secure its future.” 

The trustees devote many unpaid hours to the trust each week, sifting through applications, legal correspondence and the huge amount of administrative paperwork generated by such a wealthy and active charity. Nevertheless, they are only too pleased to give their time in the cause of continuing the unique legacy of the Wandlesses.

Says Hugh Davis: “I have been a trustee of the J. V. Trust for 21 years and it has been a pleasure to work in harmony with my fellow trustees and with Eric Hatton as our chairman. Our aim has always been to offer support to Spiritualists, giving financial assistance not only to churches but also to individuals. Long may it continue.”

And would Roy and Christine Wandless approve?

“We have had indications from time to time that Roy and Christine approved of what we were doing,” Eric says. “In fact, I think I have had three such indications from Christine, who was apparently happy with the way we have steered the trust.

“What Christine and Roy Wandless have done for Spiritualism, and particularly for the Arthur Findlay College, is unique. Even now, when they are in their spiritual home, I feel we should express our indebtedness to them.”


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