The Mayfield Valley Arts Trust (MVAT) owes its genesis to the Lindsay String Quartet who I got to know in the early 1970s when they were Artists in Residence at the University of Sheffield.  Peter Cropper, the visionary Leader of the Lindsays, was determined to create a Festival in order to build an audience for chamber music of the highest quality in Sheffield.  Peter wanted to give concerts in the round, encourage artists to talk to the audience, and create a relaxed atmosphere in which to enjoy chamber music.                           

The Lindsay String Quartet

By this time, I had been invited to join the Sheffield Theatres Trust and, following discussions with my fellow Trustee, David Brown, we were able to make the Studio Theatre available, and so the first Festival was planned focusing on the music of Beethoven.  It was very much a case of ‘all hands-on deck’; artists performed for the box office takings, volunteers provided stage management, and audiences filled the Studio night after night. 

It was clear that there was a future for chamber music in Sheffield, and the Sheffield Chamber Music Festival Trust was created to enable the Festival to continue.  Now re-named Music in the Round, it presents more than one hundred concerts a year and, in the last ten years, over one hundred and ten thousand people have taken part in the ‘Music in the Community’ programme alone.

MVAT was created in 1987 in order to provide funding for the Lindsay String Quartet and the Sheffield Chamber Music Festival, my wife ‘Scilla, myself and David Whelton were the trustees, then in 1989 we were joined by James Thornton, now Honorary Treasurer.

The first grant to the Festival was made in 1989.  In 1990, an initial grant was made to the York Early Music Festival for which funding is still ongoing. A grant was given in 1991 to the Wigmore Hall to present a Haydn series with the Lindsays. 

MVAT was very much feeling its way at this time and funded a wide range of initiatives including the commission of Sir Michael Tippett’s Fifth String Quartet for the Lindsays.  In 1993, MVAT gave its first grant to Live Music Now Yorkshire to support music provision in special needs schools.  In 1995, MVAT commenced regular funding of the Wigmore Hall which led to large grants to fund the Hall’s refurbishment and purchase of their lease.  A very large grant was also given at this time to the Crucible Theatre for the redevelopment of The Studio to increase its seating capacity and improve the acoustics.

Misper – One of the first Youth Opera productions on Glyndebourne's main stage. Supported by the Mayfield Valley Arts Trust - © Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. Photo: Mike Hoban

In 1997, David Brown joined as a Trustee, bringing his invaluable knowledge of music-making in Yorkshire to the work of the Trust. 

Ongoing funding through the 90s from the Mayfield Valley Arts Trust allowed the York Early Music Festival & Foundation to develop a new audience for early music in York. This was instrumental for them to secure capital funding which led to the opening of the National Centre for Early Music in 2000.

For the last eighteen years, MVAT has focused its work on a small number of organisations with whom it has developed a close relationship. It has given trustees great pleasure to see these organisations grow and develop as a result of the security of regular funding.  

In 2015, I handed over the Chairmanship of the Trust to David Whelton and it was subsequently strengthened with the appointments of Sarah Derbyshire and James Williams. 

In 2018, MVAT established an Enterprise Fund to broaden the scope of its work within its current policy guidelines and, in particular, to fund new initiatives. 

One of MVAT’s great strengths is its ability to fund arts organisations without the constraints of external policy requirements.  It is guided solely by its mission statement and works closely with beneficiaries as a partner, not just a funder.  With its experienced Board of Trustees, MVAT has also been able to offer advice, expertise and guidance to individuals wishing to support the arts in the UK.   From 1989 to the present, MVAT has made grants totalling in excess of £3m.

AH Thornton MBE   Founding Trustee.