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Boom years contribute to windfall from trusts

THE VALUE of grants awarded by Britain's biggest charitable trusts leapt to nearly pounds 600m over the past two years, boosted by cash windfalls from the 1980s economic boom.

The total amount distributed by the top 300 trusts rose by 50 per cent as they cashed in shareholdings and reinvested in high interest-earning securities, according to a report from the Directory of Social Change.

The Wellcome Trust is now giving away pounds 99m a year after selling some of its shareholdings in the Wellcome pharmaceutical company, and is now a bigger supporter of medical research than the Medical Research Council.

Overall, UK charities are spending pounds 250m a year on medical research, and appear to be increasingly generous in their support of National Health Service projects.

The biggest single grant in 1991 was by the Charles Wolfson Trust - pounds 5m for King's College Hospital in south London. Funds distributed by the Sainsbury family trusts have more than doubled, from pounds 14m to pounds 33m.

A Guide to the Major Trusts praises many charitable organisations for becoming more open about their activities. However, its authors, Andrew Farrow and Luke Fitzherbert, say some remain overly-secretive and have not filed accounts with the Charities Commission for several years.

The top 10 trusts ranked by grant total are: The Wellcome Trust ( pounds 99m), medical and veterinary research, history of medicine; Foundation for Sport and the Arts ( pounds 60m); BBC Children in Need Trust ( pounds 27m); The Tudor Trust ( pounds 20.2m) social welfare, health education; Charity Projects ( pounds 19.7m), homelessness, disability, drug or alcohol misuse, elderly people, Africa; The Gatsby Charitable Foundation ( pounds 16.2m), general; The Telethon Trusts ( pounds 15m), general; The Leverhulme Trust ( pounds 12.6m), research and education; Henry Smith's (Kensington Estate) Charity ( pounds 12m), health, social welfare; the Garfield Weston Foundation ( pounds 9.9m) medical research, education, welfare, general.

A Guide to the Major Trusts, 1993 edition; Directory of Social Change, Radius Works, Back Lane, London NW3; pounds 14.95, plus pounds 1.50 p&p.