Charity climb fails to get off the ground

A group of Warwick students have lost thousands of pounds after attempting to organise a charity fundraising trip to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

The students paid a company called iChallenge, operated by Nottingham student Henry Blanchard, to organise the trip. The Warwick students have said, however, that Blanchard failed to plan the trip to completion. Dozens of students lost the money they had paid and were unable to travel to Kilimanjaro.

In total the students lost around £11,000, which should have gone both to charities and towards covering the costs of their travels.

A total of 53 students were hoping to take part in the climb, split into two groups – 17 students travelling in July and 36 in September. The group in July did travel, though the cost was higher than originally anticipated. Eleven people in the September group also went to Kilimanjaro, but had to pay for and organise the trip again, with a different company.

Blanchard said: “The Warwick Kilimanjaro trip was set up by iChallenge and Sarah Hawkins to provide students an opportunity to raise funds though sponsorship by undertaking a pyhsical challenge. iChallenge was responsible for providing fundraising support and dealing with day to day queries from both Sarah and the climbers. … The trip did not run entirely as planned”

Trip organiser Sarah Hawkins said that Blanchard had organised similar trips in the past, but failed to tell her that this year he had set up his own company to run the trip. On previous trips he had worked with a different company rather than creating his own, she said.

“We were going through Nottingham Uni and the guy that was running their trips said, ‘I’m looking to expand to other universities,’” said Hawkins. She agreed to have Blanchard organise the Warwick trips, but “essentially he just didn’t do anything. He booked the flights and the climb but didn’t pay for them.”

Hawkins said Blanchard kept paying travel companies to extend the payment deadlines, eventually defaulting on the payments altogether, in the case of the September group. The extensions ended up costing the group much of their money.

Blanchard, however, said: “Part of the trouble arose because some students missed payment deadlines. Consequently prices rose because airline group booking deadlines could not be met.”

Hawkins agreed that this may have been the case, but said that the trip should not have been booked as a group. Booking in a block meant that if one person failed to pay, the whole group would not be able to go. Hawkins also claimed Blanchard failed to get her permission before paying extensions.

“We trusted him [Blanchard] far too much – there were no contracts signed. In retrospect, that was a big mistake. Stupidly, he can’t have made any money from it. He’s gained almost nothing from it, but everyone else has lost a hell of a lot,” said Hawkins.

One student involved in the trip, Kayleigh Petrie, referred the issue to Nottinghamshire Police. A spokesperson for the police force said: “The officer in charge of the case has spoken to both Kayleigh Petrie and Henry Blanchard, and basically it’s a civil matter – if it’s payments for a holiday, contracts should be signed. From our perspective, it’s not a criminal issue. Money has been removed from the accounts, [but] he’s given a reason for that to us. It’s not a matter for the police to be involved in.”

Blanchard said he is continuing to deal with issues arising from the trip. “At this time we are still dealing with outstanding issues arising from the trip’s finances. I’m currently in contact with Sarah and am in the process of contacting other students to sort out individual cases.”

Hawkins said Blanchard had only contacted her about compensation last Saturday – after the Boar had contacted Blanchard for comment and told him it was publishing a story about the trip’s difficulties. Regardless, she said she was hopeful that the dispute could be resolved amicably, though she added: “I doubt he [Blanchard] has £10,000 to give us.”

Despite the problems with the trip, Hawkins said “the people who went had a good time, but it was never the trip I was working towards the whole time”.


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