How John Speak Trust drove exports in Bradford

THE search is on for past recipients of a language scholarship programme which has been benefitting business people from Bradford and further afield for the past 90 years.

Bradford Chamber of Commerce, which manages the scheme, has issued a call to all surviving recipients of the John Speak Trust foundation to get in touch and share their stories.

The Trust has been awarding bursaries to those wishing to study a foreign language overseas since since 1924.

More than 600 people have to date received a scholarship, with the number of students varying between two and 20 in any year. A chamber spokesman said, in future, it is intended to award a lower cash bursary to increase the number of beneficiaries each year.

The search for former Speak students follows an out-of-the-blue contact with the chamber by Derek Platts, 83, who is possibly the oldest living former John Speak Trust recipient.

He was keen to share his story and express his gratitude to the trust, after so many years, for the opportunities it opened up to him.

In 1953, aged 23, after completing his national service in the RAF Derek was working in his first job in the export department of a large tool manufacturer in Sheffield.

He spotted an advert in the local paper inviting applications for a language scholarship under the John Speak scheme. He met the criteria of working in export and having a basic understanding of a foreign language – in his case French – and decided to apply.

It resulted in Derek sailing in a tool-filled cargo boat to Antwerp and then travelling onto Brussels where he lived and worked for the next six months while sharing rooms with a young German man and a Belgian student, navigating the local language and politics between the Flemish and French speakers.

Derek retired after a long career in exporting but has found a new use for his language skills after his daughter moved to France seven years ago.

Derek said: “I will be forever grateful to the John Speak Trust for that scholarship so many years ago. My life has been so enriched by the opportunities it gave me.

“It was wonderful to see that the Trust is still going and providing the same opportunities to young people after all this time. May it long continue to do so.”

The Trust was set up when textile magnate John Speak left significant funds to help students improve their language skills to support the UK’s export services.

He anonymously donated funds to Bradford Chamber of Commerce recognising that, while English is a widely-used language, long-lasting and strong commercial relationships are more often born by genuinely understanding other languages and cultures.

The Trust has funded many scholarships to countries such as wide-reaching as Argentina, Spain, Italy, Japan, China, France, Germany and Burma.

Successful applicants receive an average award of £1,870 each.

Scholarships last between three and 12 months and can be tailored to individual circumstances.

The committee which administers the scheme comprises former Speak scholarship recipients Jo Dawson, managing director of Bradford wool merchants Dawson Wool; Jim Hart, founder and chief executive of Queen’s Award-winning Yeadon-based IBM technology specialist Europlus Direct which started in Saltaire and international business consultant and former Bradford & Bingley executive Colin Russell.

The Trust’s chairman is Leeds lawyer Mark Green, a partner at DWF, who travelled to Germany to study the language in 1974.

For more information regarding the John Speak Trust, or to pass on John Speak experiences, contact Debra Patchett on 01274 230077.

First published 11:10 Wednesday 15 October 2014 in the Telegraph & Argus

Chamber International -Derek Platts in 1953 with colleagues in Brussels

Chamber International - The John Speak Trust