Investing Keith’s £3million in Sidmouth

National Trust's Head Ranger for East Devon Peter Blyth is pictured receiving a cheque for £29,700 f

National Trust's Head Ranger for East Devon Peter Blyth is pictured receiving a cheque for £29,700 for SVA Hon Treasurer Neville Staddon this week. Also pictured are Rev'd Handel Bennett, Ed Harrison and Peter Moss. Ref shs 1135-47-14SH Picture: Simon Horn - Credit: Archant

Britain’s oldest civic society has turned a banker’s £2.3million legacy into more than £3million – and every year tens of thousands of pounds benefit his beloved Sidmouth.

The Sid Vale Association (SVA) manages the Keith Owen Fund and awards grants to the groups and projects it thinks its eponymous benefactor would have supported.

The bequest exceeded the members’ wildest dreams, and through savvy moves on the stock market, an investment committee of just four keeps the funding flowing.

Neville Staddon, its chairman, said: “Keith didn’t want any publicity [about his bequest] before he died. Only two of us were really involved.

“He changed his will at the last minute. He had left several bequests but then said ‘scrap those – everything is to go to the SVA’. I don’t know why he changed his mind.

“We never thought he was worth anything like £2.3million. He was a very modest man.”

After his death on December 3, 2007, they learnt that Keith had invested far and wide, in Canada, Australia and the Channel Islands.

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The last-minute change meant his beloved Sidmouth would get even more of a boost – and the role of the SVA changed practically overnight.

The bequest helped develop new and existing projects and, through the ‘Valley of a Million Bulbs’ scheme, bring Sidmouth national attention.

His fortune has been invested across the FTSE 100 and 250 to spread the risks and the committee frequently outperforms the FTSE 100 by more than 10 per cent.

The income mainly comes from dividends, with shares rarely changing hands.

Their Vodafone stock alone won them a £20,000 payout this year – taking the total awarded by the grants committee this year to more than £140,000.

Over the last six years, 150 voluntary organisations have received grants worth more than £700,000.

SVA president Handel Bennett praised ‘truly remarkable’ achievements of the investment committee, adding: “I feel Keith would have been greatly impressed by the way his bequest has been both invested and expended.

“Sidmouth is fortunate to have been favoured by a benefactor, who apparently believed it was more blessed to give – than to receive!”

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