“A very little key will open a very heavy door.”

The Strange Gentleman, Charles Dickens,
English writer and social critic, (1812-1870).


A gift in your will is the key, opening the door for future generations to study and thrive at the University of York. 

In this fourth edition of the Legacy Newsletter, I am taking a moment to appreciate how small decisions made by individuals can have a great impact.

I share the story of Peter Whelpton, who laid the foundations for a major scholarship, the York Opportunity Scholarship, and the impact this had on one of our scholars, Stephen Donegan. I recognise the legacies the University is celebrating, with the opening of Anne Lister college, named for the 19th century Yorkshire diarist. 

This newsletter also pays tribute to the memory of Professor Peter Venables, an influential figure in the University’s history and the wider field of psychology. His legacy gift supported students like Jessie through the York Futures Scholarship.

Finally, I delve into the memories of two Heslington Circle members: John and Barry. 

Thank you to all our legacy benefactors through the years, it is impossible to fully articulate how much the support and generosity has meant to the University of York. Thank you to everyone who has included the University in their will, and to those considering doing so. Finally, thank you to the incredible York community, the students, staff, alumni and friends.

A letter from Patrick O'Donnell, York University Student Union (YUSU) President

I am so grateful to all those supporters and graduates in our York community, wherever they are in the world, for their generosity and philanthropic support, allowing us to maximise the opportunities on offer at York.

As a University for the public good, our community is at the forefront of making a difference, both in the City of York and across the globe. 

I am so proud of our staff, students and supporters who came together during the Covid-19 pandemic to support one another and to fundraise and volunteer. It is this spirit of togetherness that I hope we can continue moving forward, recognising the importance of supporting all within our community and ensuring that nobody is left behind.

Education is key to addressing societal inequalities and making the world a better place. Through your support, you can ensure that York students are at the core of being given the tools to make a difference and that they have the confidence and knowledge to contribute to the public good and make a difference in their communities as graduates, wherever they may be.

Equality, diversity and inclusion must be at the core of everything to do. From providing scholarships to widen access and participation, to kick-starting student-led projects and events to ensure the broadest possible reach, by leaving a gift in your will, you can ensure we can continue to develop these opportunities at York for generations to come.

Patrick O'Donnell
YUSU President

Patrick (left), next to fellow Sabbatical officers, Kelly, Sophie, Franki and Matt, Campus East

Patrick (left), next to fellow Sabbatical officers, Kelly, Sophie, Franki and Matt, Campus East


Back in September, we marked #RememberACharityWeek: a celebration of those who have pledged a gift in their Will to a charity. Being fairly new to the legacy world myself (I started in my role in August) this was the perfect introduction to legacy giving. I wanted to share with you what I learnt and it certainly helped that the iconic Len Goodman added his voice to the campaign. He advocates the importance of leaving a gift to a cause one feels strongly about. Hearing Len talk about his role as ambassador also emphasized the power of the individual when pledging a gift: 

This edition of the Legacy Newsletter shares a similar message by focusing on the individual reasons for leaving a gift to the University of York. Below are stories of passion and inspiration, of individuals who want to support the livelihood of future students and researchers. 

Peter & Stephen

One individual who has had a monumental impact on student life at York is Peter Whelpton, and this is also the story of a founding legacy gift. 

Peter Whelpton, Class of 69’  

Peter grew up in South Yorkshire; he was the son of a council worker and lived in a harsh domestic environment where a university education was not on the cards. His family did not support his decision to go to university but he qualified for the Local Authority Grant, and arrived in York to study Economics… where he thrived! 

His love of Economics motivated him to continue studying at LSE, but he needed £700 to take up the offered place. It was now that Peter appreciated the value of philanthropy in Higher Education because, unable to fund tuition, he was forced to put his Masters on hold.

Forty years after he left York, we reconnected with Peter in 2010. He was eager to talk about how he might support current students and soon the York Opportunity Scholarship (YOS) was established. The YOS provides financial support to undergraduate students who overcome very difficult personal, social, or domestic barriers to receive an education at York. Peter launched this scholarship and continued to give over the next seven years, personally supporting students in their pursuit of higher education.

In 2017, Peter sadly received a terminal illness diagnosis. He made the profound decision to include York in his will and this ensured the York Opportunity Scholarship (and his personal legacy) would continue to support future generations in their access to education.

Peter’s story was shared among the wider York community and alumni built on Peter’s legacy. As a result of this generosity, we are currently able to support 173 scholars – a motivated bunch who have overcome major barriers to reach York. 

Stephen Donegan, current student, MPhysics 

One such individual who received the scholarship was Stephen Donegan. Going to University was always a major goal for Stephen but he faced several obstacles in following the more 'traditional’ route. Growing up as a young carer for his mother, his responsibilities meant he didn’t obtain enough formal qualifications to get into University. York offered Stephen a foundation course, which he describes as a ‘zero to hero’ course. 

His passion for physics led him to work 90 hour weeks to complete his studies on top of his ‘real life’ jobs of gardening and lifeguarding. All this was in addition to being a single parent for his seven-year-old son, Isaac. Stephen achieved entry onto the Physics course but the prospect of four more years of economic uncertainty filled him with dread. His dream of qualifying as a chartered physicist and contributing to the scientific community at York was once again in jeopardy.

Stephen was awarded the York Opportunity Scholarship, ensuring he would be supported throughout his course. This short video from Stephen relates how much this scholarship, this personal investment in his future, has meant to him: 

Full Circle

The next step in this story is even more incredible. Back in 2010, Peter made an individual choice to open a door into education which had been closed for him, and he continued to provide opportunities by leaving a gift in his will. This led to a whole community continuing to support the worthwhile scholarship. Now, turning full circle, Stephen, a scholar, has pledged a gift in his will to York. 

His gift will ensure those following him can receive the same support which made his education possible. In a letter to the donors of the Scholarship, Stephen says: 

Without your kind gift of a scholarship, I would not be able to stay at university, with paid work this year being even more scarce. Primarily the investment you have made in me personally has enabled me to overcome my previous life and outlook, replacing it with a humble acceptance of my abilities and experience, and a drive to achieve a positive outcome far after university ... This is the biggest part of the award for me, knowing that you have chosen to personally support me in this way is an honour. 
Stephen Donegan

If you can continue Peter’s legacy, and support students like Stephen, then please consider including the University of York in your will. Thank you. 

Stephen Donegan, York Opportunity Scholar

Stephen Donegan, York Opportunity Scholar

York Opportunity Scholars, Oscar Goefron, Jasmine Nahal (centre) and Sian Clark

York Opportunity Scholars, Oscar Goefron, Jasmine Nahal (centre) and Sian Clark

Stephen Donegan and his son

Stephen Donegan and his son

"I dare to say I am like no one in the whole world ."

- Anne Lister

The life and legacy of Anne Lister (College)

Anne Lister College

Anne Lister College

Anne Lister

Anne Lister

Anne Lister plaque

Anne Lister plaque

The University has honoured the legacy of Anne Lister, the 17th-century diarist and businesswoman from Yorkshire, by naming our newly opened college after her.

Born in 1791, Anne Lister – often described as the first modern lesbian – was a prolific diarist who left behind over four million words, much of which was written in code. Lister’s incredible story was told in the recent TV series Gentleman Jack, written and directed by our very own York alumna, Sally Wainwright OBE. Sally officially opened Anne Lister college on the 21st of October, describing it as “the most wonderful, emotional, uplifting day.”

You can watch a fantastic open talk with Sally Wainwright, Laurie Shannon (Professor of English Literature at Northwestern and coordinator of the Anne Lister Society), and Gary Brannan (Keeper of Archives at the Borthwick, where a copy of Anne Lister's will is housed). The discussion was chaired by Emma Barnett (main presenter of Woman's Hour and regular presenter on Newsnight).

Naming our 10th college after Anne Lister, whose dedication to scholarship and a determination to pursue her life as she saw fit at a time when women had few rights and many obstacles to equality of opportunity, reflects our values and our commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion.
Vice-Chancellor, Professor Charlie Jeffery

Anne Lister made her own choices, and her decisions left behind a legacy that has been strengthened by TV shows, societies, and now a college, in her name. They work to proudly uncover and reinstate LGBTQ+ history in Yorkshire.

In memory: Peter Venables 

Peter H Venables, April 1923 - April 2017.

The legacy gift from the estate of Professor Peter H. Venables, founder of the Department of Psychology and former Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of York, has enabled more Psychology students to receive the York Futures Scholarship. 

I would like to thank Professor Adrian Raine and Professor Quentin Summerfield for kindly lending me their words of remembrance for Peter, as published in the The Psychologist in 2017. Their full article (available here) also includes a detailed look into Professor Venables academic contributions. 

An appreciation from Professor Adrian Raine and Professor Quentin Summerfield

“Peter was a most remarkable scientist. His career spanned the entire development of modern Psychology”
Professor Adrian Raine and Professor Quentin Summerfield

In the light of his exceptional achievements, one of the more striking aspects of Peter’s life was how he accomplished so much based on a relatively modest background. He was born in Ilfracombe where his father was a shopkeeper, but he largely grew up in West Kirby, a small town close to Liverpool. While he always wanted to attend university he could not commandeer the support of his parents. He consequently left school at the age of 16 to work as a telephone engineer before serving in the navy in World War II as a radar technician on ships. Surprisingly, these early experiences were to sow the seeds for him becoming an internationally-renowned psychologist …” 

“In 1974 Peter founded the Department of Psychology at the University of York, where he quickly established the principles that still determine the ethos of the department: that psychology is most influential when it is quantitative, biological, and experimental. 

Peter adored gardening … [his] enthusiasm was long-standing, having begun as a young boy when he was given a part of his parent’s garden to grow things, with the full run of the garden shed. His garden was radiant, and sparkled with as much light and colour as Peter’s intellect lit up the academic landscape.

We remember Peter with great admiration. He was a man of immense integrity, a good deal of dignity, and at least a little genius. He was publishing scientific articles right up to the time of his death, his last one being on sleep. Despite his passing, his legacy lives on in the Department of Psychology at the University of York, in his two sons – Andrew and Peter – and in his many grandchildren.”

Scholar story - Jessie Whichelow 

The University thanks Peter in his memory for his incredible gift, it will support passionate students of Psychology to access the discipline he contributed so much to.

Jessie Whichelow is a Psychology undergraduate and beneficiary of the York Futures Scholarship. Due to the monetary support provided, she was able to choose a more time-consuming final year research project within the sleep laboratory, focusing on the effect sleep has on emotional memory. This feels especially fitting, as Professor Venables (who was writing and publishing right up to the time of his death) wrote his last academic paper on sleep. 

Jessie describes the impact and importance of the scholarship:

“I would just like to say a massive thank you … Receiving this scholarship has relieved a lot of financial pressure and allowed me to volunteer, take part in numerous societies, take additional courses and work as department rep, whilst also balancing this with my course. I am hoping to go on to further study in a Clinical Psychology Doctorate, and the opportunities I have been able to undertake thanks to your generous support have really helped me put together a competitive application. Moreover, knowing that there is someone who believes in what I am doing enough to support me has allowed me to believe in myself and keep striving to be my best.”

Peter Venables and the original faculty in 1988

Peter Venables and the original faculty in 1988

Peter Venables

Peter Venables

Jessie Whichelow, Scholar

Jessie Whichelow, Scholar

YuPlan Event: Will writing advice

The University has a long-standing partnership with local York solicitors Crombie Wilkinson. We regularly offer free events with information on will writing and estate planning. The sessions cover the following topics:

  • Will writing and inheritance tax advice
  • Estate planning and planning finances
  • Power of attorney and any other questions you may have

If you would be interested in registering for future events then please email mary.taylorlewis@york.ac.uk.

Heslington Circle 

If you are considering leaving a gift to the University of York in your Will, we would love to hear from you so that we can help you with any information you need, and thank you personally.

Everyone who lets us know that they have included the University in their will is invited to join the Heslington Circle.

Below, I share some stories and memories of Heslington Circle members Barry Thomas and John Myers who recall their relationship with York and why they have chosen to leave a gift in their will. I hope these stories spark some of your own memories with York, and if you would like to reminisce about your time, please do get in touch!

We understand that writing a Will is a private matter, so all information you give us will be treated in the strictest confidence.

Barry Thomas, Heslington Circle Member   

I started at York as a temporary junior teaching lab technician in the Chemistry Department in July 1965 and finally retired from the University as the Principal of Vanbrugh College in 2014. My personal experiences over the years taught me how necessary effective support is for students, both academically and emotionally, and my legacy is to be used to reinforce this, particularly the latter aspect.
Barry Thomas

Barry is very much part of York and the university's history, he also shared some of his memories through photos, which feature some classic York backdrops and garbs.

Photo 1 - The one of three of us in academic garb was taken on the lawn between Central Hall and the Rainbow Bridge after one of the graduation ceremonies (perhaps the only one that year) in July 1968. It is of the first three D Phil graduates in Chemistry. 

Photo 2 - Showing me (Barry) and one of my graduate students, Peter Dobson, supposedly commissioning our new AEI MS30 mass spectrometer about 1978. I think it was one of the first two or three built by AEI and it was my baby. Unfortunately, it perished in the Great Chemistry Fire in 1981. The only words spoken by the engineer sent to inspect the damaged instrument were 'are you insured?': When told we were he said 'then it's a write off'! 

Photo 3 - Summer Ball in 1967 or more likely, 1968 held in Alcuin College. The backdrop, on a very wet evening, is the covered way across the bridge to the library. Apart from Minnie and I who were temporary staff members, the others were from the first cohort of Chemistry BA graduates.

John Myers, Heslington Circle Member 

John Myers (Chemistry/Education, class of 1974) is a Heslington Circle member, and has pledged a gift to York in his will. He shared his stories of York, particularly his adventures with York University Mountaineering Club and they may change your impression of Vanbrugh’s infamous architecture.

"I was at the University of York from 1971 to 1974. I studied for a BA in Chemistry/Education. I studied a lot of difficult chemistry with even more difficult maths. The study of education was interesting and I really enjoyed two courses called Child in literature. By far the best tutors were Geoff Penzer in Chemistry and John Davies in the English department. For a struggling student like myself, they were inspirational. Thank you.

I taught science for a couple of years in Hull before moving to work with young offenders in Sheffield and then went into the property business and still working. Bit of a change from the chemistry. I think the main thing I learnt at York was to ask questions, firmly and politely and not be fobbed off.

At York, I joined York University Mountaineering Club (YUMC) and learnt to climb. In those days there were no ready-made climbing walls or gyms and we would practice on the college walls. I lived in Vanbrugh C block and after a few months, we were able to climb out of first or second-floor windows and traverse from room to room on the outside of the building. If you fell it was a long thump to the grass below. My speciality was to climb out of the window onto the roof and then descend into another bedroom and block their doorway with the bed desk and chair which fitted snugly and made access to the room impossible. The unsuspecting would return to their room, and could not get in. Help from college porters would eventually be summoned and then I would hop back onto the roof re-enter their room and put everything back as it was. Access restored. Difficult to know who or what the problem was.

These japes reached a high point when Bryan Wyvil who was a very eminent climber came to give a talk to YUMC about his ascent of the Troll Wall in Norway and was afterwards invited for a meal on C block. There was a casual mention of the traverse between rooms which he willingly took up only to have a bucket of water thrown over him a the critical point between the rooms, thirty feet in the air at 11.00 at night. He did not fall and took it in good spirit. Today I am not sure if I would have been allowed to continue at York.

However, YUMC did need more funds for our increasingly frequent and adventurous trips away to the Lakes, Wales, and in the holidays Scotland. We needed more members to get more money. To encourage more members we had a lively stall for freshers at the society fayre. This would not be enough. We needed a stunt! Forget the televised ascent of the Old Man of Hoy. We would climb the outside of the Physics department in full sight of the fair. We did get a sort of permission for this after a  chat with the VC Lord James. We did get to the top, but I am not so sure we got an influx of extra members even though we carried a large YUMC banner for the top. I think these climate activists must have learnt a few tricks from us!! We even got in the local papers.

I am still in regular contact with friends from my time at York in YUMC and we hope to climb together in Greece this autumn.

I was very proud to have been a student at York and I was even luckier to have received a full grant from my Local Education Authority without which I could not have been there at all.  I am angry a good education is increasingly the preserve of the rich. To me, this is wrong and should be changed. Please help to do all you can. Legacies will help though I hope you will not receive it for a long time.”

Photos from Barry's time at York, see text for captions

Photos from Barry's time at York, see text for captions

Newspaper clippings of John's stunts

Newspaper clippings of John's stunts

John climbing around campus

John climbing around campus

Goodbye, and Hello! 

This newsletter has recognised individual actions. From Barry pledging to support the mental health of students to Peter Venables’s legacy which will see students excel in the discipline, he dedicated his life and was celebrated in. Also, Peter Whelpton whose initial wish to support students facing the same barriers he dealt with, inspired hundreds of others to show their support, including Stephen, one of our scholars. The University of York offers you the chance to leave a legacy to an area that is unique to you. 

You can provide the key by leaving a gift in your will, and unlock the potential and ambition of York’s future students and researchers. I can help ensure that your gift will be directed by your personal passions to create a lasting legacy. You can do something wonderful with your will. 

If you want to hear more stories, such as John’s and Peter’s, follow the link below to view them on the @uoyalumni Instagram. 

The decision to leave a gift in your will to the University of York is a private matter, and we respect that. However, letting us know of your intentions allows the University a degree of forward planning, and by clearly understanding your wishes we can ensure they will be realised. The information you may give us will be treated with confidence and is not in any way binding.

You can contact me at: mary.taylorlewis@york.ac.uk. I am new to the legacy officer position at the University of York, taking over from Kalli Keramari. I am a recent graduate in English and History from York and feel especially privileged to continue my journey at this great institution. I can provide further information on legacy giving, ways in which your gift can have the greatest impact on the future of York, and recognition of your gift.