Former grant recipient launches new book

A local girl who received a university bursary from The Harpur Trust 20 years ago, has launched a new book, The Happy Hero, How to change your life by changing the World.

Solitaire Townsend grew up in Bedford and worked evenings and weekends from an early age to support herself during her education, even working as a school cleaner whilst studying for her A levels at Sharnbrook Upper School.  She was the first in her family to attend university and she secured her first degree but not without some challenges.  “I missed my fresher’s week because I had no idea what a fresher’s week was”.

After being accepted at the prestigious Shakespeare Institute to study a Master’s degree under the direction of Sir Stanley Wells, her mother approached the Trust office in a desperate, last bid attempt to see if there might be any possibility of securing funding for the course.  Solitaire recalls that summer as being “fraught and full of anxiety”. But just two weeks before the course was due to commence, Solitaire received the news she had been waiting for – her grant application had been successful.

“What the Harpur Trust did for me was to both functionally and emotionally make my journey possible.  I often felt I wasn’t smart enough, that I didn’t have the right accent, so it was a huge emotional boost for me to think that someone thought I was worth backing”.

Once again, Solitaire found herself working part time as a university librarian by day and a cleaner by night in order to cover her living costs.  Incredibly, after completing the master’s she went on to do a second master’s in Sustainable Development at Middlesex University, funded by Cameron Mackintosh.

Putting her two areas of passion together (Shakespeare and Sustainable Development), Solitaire went on to produce some short films, one of which featured the 15 year old and then undiscovered, Keira Knightly.  Over a drink in a pub one evening back in the late 1990’s, Solitaire and her friend Ed Gillespie came up with the idea of creating an organisation which would revitalize the way businesses view sustainability.  Out of this, they jointly founded Futerra Sustainability communications and today, they employ dozens of people across their offices in London, Stockholm, New York and Mexico City.

During her career, she has visited the Artic to investigate climate change, been to the deep Amazon to research biodiversity and human rights issues, she has spoken at the UN and lectured at Harvard.  But she says her proudest moment was the recent launch of her book, attended by both her parents who were able to see at first hand the results of their support and hard work. Indeed, the first chapter of Solitaire’s book focuses on the fight against nuclear waste dumping at Elstow storage dump which she and her family played an active role in. That campaign shaped her outlook on life as she realised for the first time that people together can make a difference.

Solitaire came to our attention thanks to a letter from her mum, in which she told us of her daughter’s achievements and thanked the Trust “for helping a Bedford girl from a council estate” to achieve her dreams.  The Harpur Trust still gives bursaries today to pupils from state schools enabling them to attend university and we provide grants to individuals seeking to go back into education to improve their live chances.  Hearing stories such as Solitaire’s brings what we do to life and we are incredibly proud to have been able to help her on her path to success.