Trefoil remains “Undaunted” and, true to its origins, continues to support disadvantaged young people and to enable them to fulfil their potential.



Trefoil’s origins lie in an initiative by a group of Girl Guides in St Abbs at the outbreak of World War II to help a group of “special evacuees” from Edinburgh. These were in the language of the times “physically handicapped” children for whom no provision had been made. The volunteers initially provided a home at Northfield House, St Abbs Head, and care for about 20 children aged 6-16.

Soon afterwards the “Trefoil School”, as it became known, moved to Cowdenknowes in the Scottish Borders. Very few of the children were accustomed to the classroom as their experience of school was limited, as was the case with the volunteer teachers. The ethos was to provide as normal a life as possible. Practical skills were taught as part of the syllabus as way of developing those children with learning difficulties and encouraging a sense of achievement, an aim that Trefoil supports to this day. Following inspection by the Scottish Education Department the first fully accredited teacher was appointed.



By 1944 most of the evacuees had left, but the value of Trefoil as a school and its mission had been clearly established, with a reach far beyond Edinburgh. The name “Trefoil School” was adopted in recognition of the initial contribution by the Guides and their continued support. The School motto of “Undaunted” was agreed along with the Trefoil Guide Badge logo.

A short-term lease was taken on Polkemmet House, Whitburn in 1945, and new premises offering a more permanent solution were identified in 1948. A two-year fundraising effort enabled the charity to purchase Kirklands House, its 22 acre grounds and related properties, at Gogarburn to the west of Edinburgh, into which the School moved in 1951. This gave pupils space to roam and let off steam. A field was also rented to the Guides for camping.

The work of Trefoil School continued to develop and its approach to the “all round” development of children with “special needs” was an example to many of best practice, and was of interest in other countries. Trefoil built up a loyal group of volunteers and supporters within Edinburgh initially and then throughout Scotland.



But significant change was on its way. In the 1970s social care and education reforms placed on local authorities the responsibility for the education of children with “special needs”. Given the funding arrangements, local authorities sought to keep children within their own areas, and this meant that Trefoil very quickly lost most of its income.

An alternative use of the House and the estate for the same client group was agreed and the Trefoil Holiday Centre opened in 1976. This gave disadvantaged children access to relatively inexpensive holidays in an environment where staff were attuned to their needs and had the carer skills to support them. Gradually however the legislation regulating care services had an impact on Trefoil, and usage declined.



Care Home registration was not an option as the necessary investment in Kirklands House was not financially viable, and property upkeep and other costs became a major problem. In 2002 the Trustees decided to cease providing direct services and to lease the House to the City of Edinburgh Council as a care facility for the elderly. The Council undertook renovations and the income from the lease and from the disposal of some land to another charity enabled Trefoil to maintain its charitable purpose through the provision of holiday grants and personal development grants to eligible young people, and through “organisational grants” to other charities with a similar client group. These grant schemes remain the bedrock of Trefoil’s charitable activities to this day. 

Edinburgh Council remained in residence until the end of 2007, and another small portion of the estate was sold for development. The Trustees then decided to market Kirklands House and the whole estate while being open to a further tenancy. At this point the worldwide financial crash intervened and property sales and values fell. Subsequently, negotiations with St Columba’s Hospice to enable the latter to use the House as a temporary facility were concluded in 2010. St Columba’s took a lease until the end of 2014 and the much needed income ensured Trefoil could continue to fulfil its charitable purpose. In anticipation of the end of the lease the Trustees again put the estate on the market, though they were still willing to consider a further tenancy.

As no further tenant was forthcoming, and with the costs of upkeep rising, the Estate was sold in September 2015. The proceeds substantially increased Trefoil’s investment portfolio and heralded a regular investment income. It also provided an opportunity to review and update the grant schemes and change the administration of the charity, to reduce costs. The holiday grant scheme was suspended to enable criteria to be reviewed and online application forms to be designed. In the interim personal development and organisational grants continued to be paid to eligible clients. The holiday grant scheme was reopened in September 2016. The criteria and online application forms for all Trefoil grants can now be accessed from this website.

Trefoil remains “Undaunted” and, true to its origins, continues to support disadvantaged young people and to enable them to fulfil their potential. Examples of how we do this are shown on this website. If you wish to donate to Trefoil and help young people live better lives please click here.