Swale Youth Development Fund

Richard and Rose Moreton (photo below) Mayor and Mayoress of the Borough of Swale 1985-86 whose foresightedness led to the setting up of The Swale Youth Development Fund.

For the civic year May 1984-85 Cllr Richard Moreton and his wife Rose were nominated as Deputy Mayor and Mayoress of the Borough of Swale. The Mayor and Mayoress were Cllr William (Bill) Boggia and his wife Alfreda.

Between civic duties and his role as leader of the council, Richard’s mind was largely focused on selecting his official charity for the coming Mayoral year. A lot of ideas were discussed but, as a teacher at Danley Middle School in Sheerness, his thoughts kept returning to the children he taught.

Richard was also very involved in the building and running of the Sheppey Little Theatre which gave young people the chance to act on stage in public. However, children’s potential could not be fulfilled because parents could not afford the extra expenditure needed to finance their special talent.

The success of ice skaters Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean in the 1984 Winter Olympics, assisted by financial support from their local authority, was another reason for sealing Richard’s idea of helping talented young people in Swale, and their parents, to fulfil their dreams. But how?

Richard decided the best way was to create a new charity. The idea was put to members and officers of the Borough Council, the KCC Area Youth and Community Officer for Swale, teachers, and numerous other people within the local community and business world, seeking their opinions and backing. The Swale Youth Development Fund was about to be born. On 19 November 1985, following consultations with the Charity Commission, the Swale Youth Development Fund was duly registered and a constitution drawn up. The Fund’s aim was, and still is, quite simply to give financial assistance or equipment to talented  youngsters up to and including the age of 21, who are normally resident in the borough. Trustees meet four times a year to consider applications.

The first Trustees were the original steering group – Cllr Richard Moreton (Mayor), Rose Moreton (Mayoress), Hugh Curling (a Chartered Accountant, also a former Mayor), *Alan Bernstein (KCC’s Area Youth and Community Officer for Swale), David Thomas (Swale Borough Council’s Director of Leisure Services), Richard Barson (Headteacher of Sheppey Comprehensive School), Patricia Nesham (Chairman, Kent County Council),  Tom Lecompte (Director, Rockall Data), John Hippisley (Personnel Director, Shell Research), Cllr Reginald Lewis,  and *Carole Nealey (Secretary to the Mayor of Swale). (*Still serving Trustees but as private individuals.)

During the Mayoral Year 1985-86 a lot of discussion took place on ways of getting the idea off the ground and raising funds. Richard, with the backing and help of the steering group, undertook many varied events including a Quizbuster competition. This took place over many weeks in halls, pubs and schools with the last team remaining being awarded the Quizbuster Cup, donated by the Sheerness Times-Guardian.

The community too was very responsive. Businesses and organisations such as youth clubs, schools and even private individuals put on various fund-raising activities. In his retiring Mayoral speech in May 1986, Richard was able to announce that at least £13,000 had been raised to give the new charity a kick-start.

Talented youngsters were invited to apply to the Fund and a presentation evening was held at Swale House in May 1986, when each of the five applicants received an award of £50. Since then there have been regular similar events, quite often hosted by the Mayor of Swale, both to promote the aims of the Fund and to showcase the talents of individual applicants.

During 1989 Richard wanted to find new ways of publicising the Fund and trustees suggested there would be more impact if an occasional large grant could be made for outstanding applicants. They decided to launch a one-year pilot scheme of one or two major bursaries of up to £1,000. Three applicants were subsequently interviewed in January 1990 and Julian Salisbury (white-water canoe slalom competitor) was selected.

Tragically Richard died of a heart attack on 20 March 1991 aged just 53, but his inspiration, always supported by Rose, lived on. Sadly Rose passed away on 1 August 2019 aged 85.

Once Charity Commission status had been granted, Trustees turned their thoughts to agreeing a logo. Richard, whilst Mayor, wrote a weekly column for the Sheerness Times-Guardian and he used it to invite members of the public to come up with a logo for the Fund, but without great success.

Richard then decided to ask his pupils if they could come up with any ideas. Several of them did draft drawings which were submitted to the trustees for approval and the one that stood out from all the rest was the helping hand created by Anthony Ward, then aged 12.

Trustees modified the draft slightly but otherwise it was kept intact as Anthony had submitted it. Although the logo was first mentioned in 1986 the final format was not used until 1993. It is now on the Fund’s stationery, leaflets, badges and the website.

In March 2006 Jayne Torvill OBE became the Fund’s first Patron and was formally welcomed at a Presentation Evening held at The Sittingbourne Community College.

Rose became the Fund’s first Life President in July 2009 after stepping down as chairman, a post she had held following Richard’s untimely death. In August 2009 William (Bill) Boggia, now an Honorary Alderman, became the Fund’s second Patron.

In November 2010 a lunch was held at The Avenue Theatre to celebrate the start of the Fund’s 25th Anniversary Year and Patron Bill Boggia took the opportunity to launch The Richard Moreton Bursary Fund. Subsequently, at their meeting in October 2013, trustees agreed to raise the upper award limit from £1,000 to £2,000. The award limit is reviewed annually.

Carole Nealey became the Fund’s second Vice President in July 2018 having been Vice Chairman to Alan and then Chairman for six years.

 In October 2012 an evening to ‘Celebrate the Youth of Swale’ was held at The Coniston Hotel. It showcased the talents of youngsters who had received general awards as well as bursary recipients including Ross Wilson, from Minster, who repaid the Fund’s many years of support by winning a Bronze Medal in the GB Table Tennis team event at the London 2012 Paralympics. Ross went on to win another Bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympics and Gold in the 2018 Commonwealth Games. He won a further Bronze medal in the GB Table Tennis team event at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics (held in 2021 because of Covid). See Paralympian Success.

Trustees have come and gone but several have remained for very many years and two former recipients Andrew Mason and Sarah Drury became Trustees. Andrew stood down as a Trustee in July 2013 when he took up a position as clarinettist with Leeds Symphony Orchestra. Sarah became Chairman in July 2018 having been Vice Chairman to Carole for two years.

Although the aim of the Fund remains, it has had to become more business-minded. As part of that progress, aside from having a Board of Trustees, it has an Honorary Auditor and a graphics / website adviser who are not Trustees. They are unpaid but willing volunteers who have no say in the day-to-day running of the Fund.

 Although the Fund is completely independent of Swale Borough Council it has nevertheless enjoyed the continued support of Members and Officers from the outset. In April 2009 the council was keen to develop a local response to the national 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics agenda in sports, arts and culture. From this a partnership agreement was entered into between the council and the Fund, with a sum of money set aside annually by the council. Trustees recommend suitable applicants, and the amount to be awarded. This arrangement is still continuing.

When former Mayor of Swale Pat Sandle’s term of office ended in May 2013 she wanted to provide something to show her personal support for the Fund. This became a trophy bearing the inscriptionSwale Youth Development Fund Annual Award to a young person who has reached a high level of achievement during the year‘. Trustees choose a suitable nominee from among the many young people helped by the Fund with Mrs Sandle presenting it. A plaque showing the relevant year is also given to the individual to keep.

Gerry Cassell started the highly successful employment agency, New Appointments Group (NAG) many years ago. NAG, and Gerry as a private individual, were constant supporters of the Fund from its inception in 1985. Sadly Gerry died on 11 July 2014 and to honour his memory trustees set up “The Gerry Cassell Annual Special Award”, which is given to an outstanding individual, the sum awarded being at the discretion of trustees.

In January 2011 Rose’s grandson Steve Brown became a Trustee thus securing a family link with the Fund. In February 2018 Steve became it’s third Patron being formally welcomed during a fundraising dinner held at and sponsored by The Coniston Hotel, Sittingbourne. It was especially poignant that Rose was able to attend this special occasion.

In January 2020, Mrs Christine Brown, Rose’s daughter and Steve’s mother became a Trustee

In April 2020, Mrs Sally Wilson, mother of Paralympian and former Fund awardee Ross Wilson, became a Trustee.

Over the years the Fund has helped literally hundreds of young people and hopes to continue to do so for very many more years to come.