Benslow Music Instrument Loan Scheme's bespoke new building officially opened by Judith Weir CBE as part of 90th anniversary celebrations

Co-founder Editha Knocker, musician Olivia Trezise, and Benslow Music President Judith Weir CBE cutting the ribbon

Co-founder Editha Knocker, musician Olivia Trezise, and Benslow Music President Judith Weir CBE cutting the ribbon at the opening of Benslow Music Instrument Loan Scheme's bespoke Aston Building in Hitchin - Credit: Benslow Music / Zoe Cooper

A bespoke new building at the UK's oldest instrument loan scheme was opened as part of the Hitchin organisation's 90th anniversary celebrations.

Benslow Music Instrument Loan Scheme founders Editha Knocker and Edith Croll

Benslow Music Instrument Loan Scheme founders Editha Knocker and Edith Croll - Credit: Benslow Music

Founded by pioneering women Edith Croll and Editha Knocker in 1932, Benslow Music Instrument Loan Scheme celebrates its landmark anniversary this year.

President Judith Weir CBE, Master of the Queen’s Music, officially opened the new Aston Building on the Benslow site on Sunday, January 23.

Judith Weir ribbon cutting at Benslow Music Instrument Loan Scheme's bespoke Aston Building

Benslow Music President Judith Weir CBE ribbon cutting at Benslow Music Instrument Loan Scheme's bespoke Aston Building in Hitchin - Credit: Zoe Cooper

The facility provides a monitored, secure environment for the instruments, try-out studio, workshop space for on-site luthier Marco Matathia, as well as office and practice space.

The Benslow Music Instrument Loan Scheme (BMILS) started humbly with a plea for “violins lying idle” in a letter to The Times newspaper in 1932.

It has since blossomed into a well-respected organisation whose operation over the last nine decades has offered thousands of aspiring young artists the opportunity to borrow high quality instruments to enhance and further their musicianship.

Etta Dainty, Head of BMILS, Judith Weir and Councillor Val Bryant

Etta Dainty, Head of BMILS, Judith Weir and Councillor Val Bryant - Credit: Zoe Cooper

Etta Dainty, head of BMILS, said: “Having benefitted from a similar scheme as a student, I’m fully aware of how important affordable access to quality instruments can be – and consequently how a lack of access can potentially stop a life of music in its tracks.

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"There should be no barrier to young people pursuing their musical dreams, and at BMILS we strive to make ourselves visible and available to potential borrowers from all backgrounds.

"By increased collaboration with institutions including national music hubs and schools, and charities such as Awards for Young Musicians, we aim to help as many young musicians as possible.

"Seeing a young player’s face light up when they first try an instrument of significantly better quality than previously available to them is priceless! A whole new world of sound opens up."

Last Sunday's opening afternoon included performances by two current BMILS borrowers – Olivia Trezise and Apollo Premadasa.

Olivia Trezise, borrower and performer at the opening of Benslow Music Instrument Loan Scheme's new facility

Olivia Trezise, borrower and performer at the opening of Benslow Music Instrument Loan Scheme's new facility - Credit: Zoe Cooper

After studying at the Royal Academy of Music for one year, violinist Olivia, 16, now attends the Junior Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Olivia, who has borrowed two previous instruments from the scheme, currently plays an old English violin by George Craske, generously on loan to BMILS from the Hope Scott Trust since 2009.

Cellist Apollo Premadasa and pianist Stephen Meakin at Benslow Music.

Cellist Apollo Premadasa and pianist Stephen Meakin at the opening of Benslow Music Instrument Loan Scheme's new facility - Credit: Zoe Cooper

Eight-year-old cellist Apollo plays an English ¼ size cello by Colin Garrett, which was first loaned to BMILS in 2000 by the maker, and later donated to the scheme in 2017.

He currently studies at Junior Guildhall School of Music and Drama and also plays trombone, orchestral percussion and piano, as well as conducting and composing his own work.

Judith Weir at the opening of Benslow Music Instrument Loan Scheme's bespoke Aston Building

Judith Weir at the opening of Benslow Music Instrument Loan Scheme's bespoke Aston Building - Credit: Zoe Cooper

BMILS welcomes new borrowers between the ages of seven to 25 years currently in full-time education and taking a course in musical instruction.

It has a collection of over 1,600 musical items, with approximately a third currently out on loan.

Instruments include high quality violins, violas, cellos and doubles basses of all sizes, selected woodwind and brass, plus a small number of pedal harps.

Judith Weir with Benslow Music CEO Peter Hewitt

Judith Weir with Benslow Music CEO Peter Hewitt - Credit: Zoe Cooper

Previous borrowers include BBC Young Musician of the Year finalists, soloists, orchestra players and members of chamber ensembles throughout the UK and beyond.

All this wouldn't have been possible without the two remarkable women behind the scheme.

The loan scheme was the brainchild of violinist, conductor, teacher and author Editha Knocker and fellow violinist, forward-thinking music teacher and philanthropist Edith Croll.

Benslow Music Instrument Loan Scheme co-founder Editha Knocker

Benslow Music Instrument Loan Scheme co-founder Editha Knocker - Credit: Benslow Music

Understanding the importance of playing on a quality instrument, they sought to overcome the financial barrier faced by young musicians.

Their letter, calling for “Good violins lying idle” to be repurposed for use by young musicians who could otherwise not afford superior instruments, was a ground-breaking egalitarian plan and was endorsed by leading music figures of the day.

The scheme found a home, and shared aspirations, with the Rural Music Schools, established in Hitchin in 1929 by another pioneering woman, Mary Ibberson.

This would later became the Benslow Music Trust. 

Judith Weir and Tony Aston, patron  

Judith Weir and Tony Aston, patron - Credit: Zoe Cooper

Thousands of young musicians have since benefitted from borrowing from the scheme and this has had an impact on shaping British cultural life.

Further 90th anniversary events are planned this year on April 10, July 24 and December 10.

BMILS is funded entirely by annual instrument loan charges and generous donations.

For more, visit https://benslowmusic-ils.org/