Join | Donate | Volunteer:


Become part of a 5,000+ community which believes that speaking and listening skills are central to personal fulfilment and cultural understanding

Become a member


One-off or regular donations are vital to our work, helping us ensure that young people everywhere have the oracy skills they need to thrive

Support our work


We’re hugely grateful to those who volunteer their time in helping to organise and run ESU programmes and competitions. Find out how you could help


‘We rely on the generous support of our members, donors and volunteers to ensure we can reach those children who need our help most’

Home > News and views > It’s in your gift

It’s in your gift

Leaving a legacy is your chance to make a lasting impact, bringing skills and opportunities to those who may not otherwise be able to access them, below we hear about three of our generous benefactors…

On a December afternoon in Battersea, London, a class of nine-year-old primary school children is debating the pros and cons of zoos. Things get heated rather quickly, but, refreshingly, positions are not yet entrenched. ‘I thought that zoos were just somewhere people kept animals but now I see that zoos make sure that endangered species are safe,’ says Isaiah after the class. It’s inspiring to see – and not only for the observers. ‘I’m going to use my debate skills to change the world!’ says Isaiah’s classmate, Devron. This is a Discover Debating workshop, offered for free to over 2,000 children in more than 100 state primary schools with indicators of need during our centenary year. That we are able to do this is, in part, down to a generous legacy – the largest single gift the charity has ever received – left to the ESU in 2003.

The legacy, which amounted to over £500,000, was a gift from Joyce Rolf, a long-standing member of the Brighton and Hove branch of the ESU and its secretary for many years. Although friends were aware that she had been brought up ‘wanting for nothing’, thanks to both her mother’s and father’s families having successful fishmonger’s businesses, Joyce herself lived frugally, in a small bungalow at the end of an unmade road. Her friend and fellow ESU member Roger Tilbury remember visiting her in the winter before her death to find her with a faulty boiler and muffled up against the cold – and refusing all offers of help. ‘Eventually I pressed her to move out for a while and find somewhere warm,’ says Roger. Her reply was unexpected. ‘She told me that, if necessary, she could move next door because she owned that house too.’ She stayed put and, when she died some months later, it became apparent that she had inherited both money and property from her parents and in fact owned several houses in the area.

Having no family, Joyce left her estate in equal portions to a handful of organisations close to her, including the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, St Paul’s Church in Brighton, and the English-Speaking Union. ‘I think Joyce enjoyed the ESU for the social contact and friendship, the stimulating branch talks and the opportunity to use her considerable organisational skills,’ says Roger. ‘I think it offered her a sense of belonging.’ Arthur Collins, now President of the Brighton branch, knew Joyce well and agrees with Roger, and adds that the charity’s aims appealed to her too. ‘Joyce was a tax collector for the Inland Revenue and sometimes had to appear in court to give evidence against people, so the correct use of the English language was important to her,’ he says. She was also clearly a critical thinker with an eye for detail. ‘Her accountant later told me that Joyce would go to see him once a month – and that he often felt quite sore about the interrogation she inflicted on him.’ Though Joyce did not stipulate that her legacy should be used in a particular way, it seems fitting then that the ESU’s trustees have chosen to restrict the fund for scholarship and educational programmes, such as Discover Debating, as well as making an annual donation to the Brighton branch to support the memorial lecture which has been set up in her name.

Changing lives

In contrast to Joyce, some benefactors do choose to set out how their legacies should be used. Mr Westbury Preston, ‘a long-time hon. Legal Adviser to the Union and most active worker for it’, who died in 1948, desired his gift, which amounted to around half of his total estate, to be used for ‘educational purposes’. Invested as an endowment in his name, the capital continues to grow, while the interest alone has since enabled all manner of activities, including debate tours of America for British students, Capitol Hill internships at the United States Congress, and for teachers from Sri Lanka, India, Mauritius and other countries to attend ESU conferences in Britain. Today, it is primarily used to give bursaries to students needing financial support to be able to take up a placement on the Secondary School Exchange programme – a once-in-a-lifetime chance  to spend a year at an American high school.

In 1970, Brigadier Charles Lionel Lindemann was even more specific. A keen physicist who, with his brother Professor Frederick Alexander Lindemann (Churchill’s personal scientific secretary during WWII), had invented a type of glass for transmitting X-rays, he believed the ESU was ‘unusually well qualified’ to advise on academic placements in America, and set up a trust to do just that, asking the Union to administer them. His will specified his wish that ‘generous fellowships in physical science [would help] further pure scientific research by outstanding people who might otherwise feel unable to pursue this type of work’. Today, the grants amount to $40,000 each and over 130 scientists have been able to further their studies, and their careers, in this way.

Dr. Martin Laming, who spent a year at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, credits the fellowship with allowing him to change direction in his work. ‘Quite simply, it changed my life,’ he says. And that, whether we’re helping young people with cultural exchange and understanding, or improving their oracy skills, is what the ESU is all about.

Leaving a legacy

If you’d like to leave a legacy to the ESU, it’s as simple as including a line in your will with our name and charity number (273136).

You could choose to leave a percentage of the net value of your estate once all taxes, dues and other gifts have been accounted for (also known as a residuary gift); a fixed amount of money (a pecuniary gift); or specific possessions – typically land, shares or property. If you would like your legacy to be put towards a specific element of our work, such as Discover Debating or the upkeep of Dartmouth House, we will always try to enable this.

Charitable donations are generally exempt from inheritance tax, capital gains tax and income tax and, in some cases, can help reduce the amount in your estate to below the inheritance tax threshold, protecting your assets for loved ones. In all cases, it’s a good idea to consult a solicitor to ensure your intentions can be realised as you wish. The Law Society can help you find a solicitor in your area; see or call 020 7320 5650.

For more information on leaving a legacy or making a donation, please contact Rachel Fernandes at or call +44 (0)20 7529 1579.

Share Page