On Sunday the 11th October, we hosted a concert by the superb Eileanóra Ni Charthaig and her very talented musical friends. Attending the event was an invited audience of committed supporters of Westacre Theatre, most notably, representatives from The Shears Foundation. This charity was founded by Trevor Shears and his wife, Lyn. Without the generosity of The Shears Foundation, Westacre Theatre would simply not exist. The concert was held as a small “thank you” to the Shears Foundation, but particularly to Trevor, who sadly passed away last year.
As part of the event we officially planted a tree just in front of the theatre terrace, in celebration of Trevor Shears and in recognition of the contribution of The Shears Foundation to the development of Westacre Theatre. It is a fast-growing, large, deciduous tree of the genus Quercus Rubra, in other words, a Red Oak. It has an open, spreading crown and broad leaves that turn red or red-brown in autumn. It is a native of North America but was introduced into this country over 300 years ago. It can grow to well over 100 feet.
Trevor Shears was born in llkley in 1945. He enjoyed a successful career in the transport industry and was one of the founding directors of the Go-Ahead Group. In his retirement, he became well known as a philanthropist supporting causes in Yorkshire, the North East and elsewhere and, in 1996 together with his wife Lyn, established The Shears Foundation as a charitable trust dedicated to this work. In 2009, Trevor received the OBE for services to charitable causes.
Trevor and Lyn became staunch supporters of Livespace Theatre Company during its touring days in the early 1990s . As Andy Naylor and Issy Huckle were enabled by the Birkbeck Estate to develop their work at Westacre, the Shears Foundation was instrumental in providing the pump-priming funding at key stages from 1999. Trevor himself became a founder member of The Westacre Arts Foundation when it was established in 1996.
He died after a short illness in May 2014.
Andy Naylor and Trevor Shears were first cousins but it should be made clear that their consanguinity never got in the way of a good political argument.
The Shears Foundation was established by Lyn and Trevor in 1996 following the sale of their transport business and supports projects that fall under the following criteria: Culture, Heritage and the Arts, Community, Education, Health, Environment and overseas projects in India.
Whilst helping to ensure the safeguarding and regeneration of the North East region’s major building-based cultural icons such as The Sage Gateshead and The Baltic, the Shears have taken a keen interest in reaching somewhat lesser-known causes on their doorstep. These include the likes of Berwick Film & Media Festival, Juniper Productions, Lawnmowers Independent Theatre Company, Live Music North East, Live Theatre, Northern Print, Northern Stage, Music in the Minster, Open Clasp Theatre Company, Samling, Streetwise Opera, and Tyneside Cinema.
The nature of the Shears’ philanthropy is also carefully considered. Whilst supporting major capital developments at the likes of the Great North Museum, Seven Stories and many others, their giving is planned to ensure the sustainability of these organisations over the long term with subsequent donations and dedicated support.
Community impact and outreach plays an important role in the Shears’ decision making. Amongst numerous examples is their financial assistance to the Bowes Museum, helping to enable their educational provision for schools and families, as well as helping Beamish, The Living Museum of the North reach a total of 18,000 school children in 3 years through their work. They see the vital connection between financial health of arts organisations and their ability to increase participation – a marked upsurge in participation has been attributed to the Shears’ contributions in the Tyneside area alone over the last decade.
Beyond the North East, the Shears have supported the Westacre Arts Foundation in Norfolk, of which Trevor was a trustee; the National Tramway Museum in Derby and English National Opera. Their generosity knows no bounds.