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19th Century widow fund expanded

28 September 09 13:18 GMT
By Andrew Black
Political reporter, BBC Scotland news website

A fund inspired by a pioneering 19th Century philanthropist to help Glasgow widows is to get a makeover, more than 100 years after it was established.

The fund, in Isabella Ure Elder's name, set up in 1906, offered an annual grant of £25 - £2,300 at 2009 prices - to widows living in Govan or Glasgow.

The trust which oversees the fund now wants to lift the payment cap and widen eligibility for payments.

Legislation is being brought to Holyrood to make the changes.

In the years since being approved by parliament, the trustees of the Ure Elder Fund now want to be able to modernise it to address poverty in a 21st Century context.

Lead trustee, Dr Joan McAlpine, told BBC Scotland that even though the name of the fund - officially still the "Ure Elder Fund for Indigent Widow Ladies of Govan and Glasgow" - would be shortened to the Ure Elder Fund, it would still retain its original ethos.

"£25 now doesn't buy very much so we want to be able to change it and give more realistic sums to those people who apply and are accepted," she said.

"Trying to keep Mrs Elder's thoughts in mind, it will still be given largely to widows or women who have children and can't support them, to people who are really in need of additional money."

Born in the Gorbals in 1828, Isabella Ure Elder became a champion for the working classes in Govan, an area which suffered from extreme poverty, where her husband John Elder's company, John Elder & Co, became one of the world's leading shipbuilders and marine engineers.

Medical school

Following his death 1869, she devoted her life to philanthropic work and improving standards of health and education among the people of Govan.

Mrs Elder went on to open a public park for local residents, on land near her husband's former Fairfield Shipyard, as well as establishing a hospital and library in the area.

Famously, she gifted North Park House in Glasgow's west end - later the home of BBC Scotland - to Queen Margaret College, and a medical school for women opened in 1890.

More than 100 years after Mrs Elder's death, in 1905, the fund's trustees are bringing the Ure Elder Transfer and Dissolution Bill to Holyrood to make the changes.

MSPs will be asked to approve the legislation in the coming months.

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