Fields in Trust

HRH The Duke of Edinburgh (1921-2021)

Posted on 9th April 2021
HRH The Duke of Edinburgh actively served as our President for 64 years, he recognised the power of parks and green spaces for our physical health and for our mental wellbeing and we are indebted to him for his decades of support

HRH The Duke of Edinburgh actively served as our President for 64 years, he recognised the power of parks and green spaces for our physical health and for our mental wellbeing and we are indebted to him for his decades of support. 

The Duke took on the role of President of Fields in Trust, then known as the National Playing Fields Association (NPFA), in October 1948. This was his first national charity commitment - in his acceptance speech His Royal Highness spoke of his lack of experience which he pledged to make up for in "effort and industry" - of over 800 appointments and patronages since undertaken. He served for over six decades, stepping down in April 2013 to be replaced by his grandson, HRH The Duke of Cambridge, who remains in the role today.

The Duke was involved in every aspect of the organisation during his long and committed service. As well as regularly working in the office he attended countless opening ceremonies of protected parks and green spaces, played in many fundraising cricket matches and hosted charity galas.

Early in his royal life, The Duke was said to be appalled to see children playing in the street instead of on green spaces and it became his desire to improve this situation for young people in urban areas. This led to him taking the Presidency of the NPFA, succeeding his uncle, Rear Admiral the Rt. Hon. Earl Mountbatten of Burma. The occasion was recorded in the 22nd Annual Report of the NPFA, saying: "The period has been made memorable by the Association being honoured in October by the acceptance of the Presidency by H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh, K.G.".

The Annual Report goes on to say that: "This Report will serve as a valuable record of a particularly interesting, if trying, period in the history of the Association". The charity had a high level of debt at the time and His Royal Highness set about a fundraising drive, aiming to raise £500,000. His campaign was named the Silver Jubilee Fund to reflect his goal of completing the campaign by 1952, the year of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth's Jubilee.

Earl Mountbatten of Burma and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh pictured in the January 1949 edition of Playing Fields Journal

His Royal Highness in his cricket whites, taking part in a fundraising cricket match to support the NPFA

Greeting Roger Moore, Maud Adams, Christopher Lee and Britt Ekland at a fundraising event for the NPFA

Greeting then Chief Executive Alison Moore Gwyn and then Chairman Lord Howard of Rising

The Duke took an active interest in the fundraising, visiting the offices of the NPFA each morning - in an article for the NPFA in 2006, he wrote: "I used to walk over to the NPFA office in Ecclestone Square each morning to take a more hands-on role in the organisation". He was ahead of his time in understanding the power of the media; making speeches, appearing on posters and in broadcasts. In 1951, The Duke starred in a short film made in Malta which showed poor children whose only places to play were nearby streets. The film reportedly raised £84,000 for the Silver Jubilee Fund.

The Duke also struck up a connection with Frank Sinatra and delivered a spoken introduction to a recording of Sinatra's "If Only She'd Looked My Way". The record is widely accepted as the first charity single and the proceeds supported the NPFA. Sinatra and Ava Gardener were guests, along with several other celebrities and sports stars, at a Variety Club of Great Britain benefit for the NPFA at the Empress Club, organised by The Duke in 1951.

The Silver Jubilee Fund raised the desired £500,000 by 1952 and by the end of the decade The Duke's efforts had seen double that amount raised for the NPFA.

His efforts did not stop at fundraising, however, with His Royal Highness an active participant in the charity's day-to-day affairs. He chaired Annual General Meetings and attended opening ceremonies at numerous parks and green spaces. In 2001 he visited Mile End Park to see the result of extensive refurbishments, having first opened the park five decades earlier in 1952. His involvement was such that an episode of Netflix's "The Crown" features a sequence where The Duke is away at a meeting of the NPFA.

A keen cricketer The Duke supported the fundraising efforts and charity's ongoing work by arranging several charity cricket matches. In 1949 he led a team of celebrities against the England Test team at Bournemouth. The following year the Lord's Taverners was formed and, on becoming its Patron and "Twelfth Man", The Duke suggested all funds raised should be given to the NPFA. For fifteen years the NPFA were the sole beneficiaries of the Lord's Taverners work and in 2014 a silver salver was presented to His Royal Highness to mark a total of £1 million in donations from the latter to the former.

Attending an event for the NPFA with our Patron, HM The Queen

Supporting an NPFA cricket event with young players

Greeting current Treasurer Jeremy Hammond and Chief Executive Helen Griffiths

Receiving a silver salver from former Chairman Tim Phillips CBE to mark £1 million in donations from the Lord's Taverners

The Duke was forward-looking in his understanding of the value of parks and green spaces, as well as the need to revalue them for the benefits they provide. In a 1956 speech accepting a donation of £50,000 from Butlin's holiday camps, His Royal Highness said: "There are many other reasons why we go on about playing fields, and they're not always particularly tangible - you can't always measure them exactly in terms of money. For instance, we want the next generations to grow up stronger and healthier".

His Presidency saw a period of great growth for the organisation in relation to its charitable objectives. Across The Duke's 64-year tenure the number of green spaces protected with Fields in Trust grew from 430, covering around 1,300 hectares, to over 2,000, covering nearly 12,000 hectares.

Through his support of Fields in Trust, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh has provided a lasting legacy of parks and green spaces protected in perpetuity to ensure people will always have places to play and be active. His tireless efforts live on through these protected spaces and Fields in Trust's continuing work, now supported by his grandson HRH The Duke of Cambridge, to protect, support and champion green spaces for good.

A donation to Fields in Trust in memory of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh will support our ongoing work and help secure the green space legacy His Royal Highness created.