History of the Trust
The Victorian businessman and entrepreneur, William Hesketh Lever first brought his exceptional creativity and energy to the manufacture and marketing of Sunlight Soap which only a decade after its launch was being sold in 134 countries.
Lever extended his business activities in ways that both served and profited from the rapid rise of a mass market for basic consumer products. From the earliest days, he was also a philanthropist, supporting a variety of educational, religious, civic, community, and medical causes. His achievements were recognised in 1922 when the title of Lord Leverhulme of the Western Isles was conferred upon him.
On his death in 1925, Lord Leverhulme left a proportion of his interest in the company he had founded, Lever Brothers, in trust for specific beneficiaries: to include first certain trade charities and secondly the provision of "scholarships for the purposes of research and education". The Leverhulme Trust was established. In the succeeding years, Lever Brothers became a cornerstone of Unilever, one of the major multinational companies, created in 1930 by the merger of Lever Brothers with the Van den Berghs margarine company of the Netherlands. The Leverhulme Trust's shareholding thus became part of Unilever plc. November 1983 saw an evolution in the arrangements for the two charitable objectives. Subsequently, the Leverhulme Trust has been able to give concentrated attention to research and education.
One special element in Viscount Leverhulme's legacy is the request that the Trustees all be drawn from the highest levels within Lever Brothers Ltd or now from its descendant Unilever plc. The Trust is therefore led by a group of colleagues with wide but self-consistent experience, with a high level of mutual understanding and respect built up over many years, and with a full recognition of the special qualities and achievement of the founder. The resulting culture for decision-making is free from disciplinary special interest but fully alert to the wide-ranging impact which research and education must make in modern life.
Throughout its history, the Trust has combined the direct initiatives of the Trustees made in the light of specialist peer review advice together with a portfolio of awards made by a Research Awards Advisory Committee, itself comprising eminent research colleagues drawn predominantly from the academic world. The tradition continues to the present day.