A £2.5m donation in memory of Wirral businessman, Peter Johnson, will help the University of Liverpool and The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust extend their research into Parkinson’s Disease.

The Birkenhead-born, former owner of Tranmere Rovers, died in January 2024, aged 84. 

Mr Johnson started a Christmas Savings Club out of his family butchers business in Birkenhead in the 1960s. It grew into the hugely successful Christmas hampers supplier, Park Group, which saw the businessman amass a £150m fortune. 

He went on to invest in both Tranmere Rovers and Everton and is credited with saving Rovers from going out of business in the 1980s. 

The donation will endow the joint appointment of a new Peter Johnson Chair in Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders at the University and The Walton Centre, alongside a Clinical Lecturer, Postdoctoral Researcher and PhD Researcher positions.  

The two organisations have a wealth of research and clinical expertise in the area of Parkinson’s Disease and neurodegeneration, including a research group led by Professor Michael Clague, widely recognised as an authority in the field.

The University of Liverpool and The Walton Centre are developing a joint strategy to create and invest in a world class environment for neuroscience research. Research focused on Parkinson’s Disease and other neurodegenerative diseases is a key area for development.

The new funding is via the Johnson Foundation, which Peter Johnson established in 1987 to support the advancement of education, preservation and protection of health, and relief of poverty and sickness in the Liverpool City Region.

Chairman and Mr Johnson's daughter, Kate Eugeni, said: “Our father had fought this disease since 2014 and regularly talked about not perhaps a cure per se but something that would make for a more comfortable life and a better understanding of the disease.

"He had been party to all of the initial conversations with the University, asking questions about how this donation could make an impact, and was passionate that this research would happen here in Liverpool. It's a real sign of hope and determination, showing that we're making strides towards a cure and a better future for everyone dealing with Parkinson's."

Mr Johnson was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Liverpool in 2023 in recognition of his business achievements and philanthropy.

Professor Louise Kenny, Executive Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, said: “Thanks to this generous donation from the Johnson family, our collaborative research into Parkinson’s disease with The Walton Centre will go from strength to strength. It will help to improve our understanding of the underlying biology, develop new treatment strategies and improve patient outcomes and quality of life.”

Professor Tim Jones, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Liverpool said: “This generous gift from the Johnson Foundation will help the University to make new advances in its Parkinson’s Disease research. The University recognised Peter Johnson for his business and philanthropic achievements with an honorary degree in 2023 and through this donation that legacy of improving lives in our region and beyond is set to continue.”