Celebrating the springboard donation to Changing Faces

Greville and Lisa Mitchell

Greville and Lisa Mitchell

Twenty-five years ago this week, on Friday 25th October 1991, I received the very first donation to Changing Faces – and it was a full nine months before the charity was officially ‘launched’ and was therefore of even more significance.

So I was delighted last week to be invited to have coffee with Greville and Lisa Mitchell in their lovely house overlooking Perelle Bay in Guernsey – and to thank them yet again for their immense generosity. Their donation was the trigger, it gave me the confidence – and they didn’t stop there either!

Greville Mitchell is a very well-respected local philanthropist in Guernsey – he’d put up the initial funding for the island’s hospice. I didn’t know him but managed to get an introduction and met him one afternoon in early October 1991.

I explained what I was thinking of doing – creating a charity to fill the void in psycho-social, confidence-building care for people with disfigurements from any cause, to advocate that such care should be a routine of health care after burns, cleft lip and palate, facial cancer or paralysis or skin conditions, and to challenge the prevailing and pervasively negative public attitudes around disfigurement.

A big agenda, I admitted, but it need to be tackled. I asked him if he would advise me on whether he thought it a viable and worthwhile idea. He agreed to review my ‘business plan’ (I shuddered at its paucity) and said he would get back to me.

A few days later, I had just been out spreading slurry on a local field fully-clad in protective oil skins and stopped at the end of our farm track to rescue the post from the mail box. I climbed back into the tractor cab and opened one of the letters, the writing of which I didn’t recognise. It was from Greville: “thank you for your book and your plan… I think it is a very good and exciting idea and needs doing… and here’s £5,000 to get it going… and I’ll go on supporting you if you do get it up and running.”

And so the Andrew Mitchell Christian Charitable Trust became our very first donor – and Greville has been good to his word like the great Christian gentlemen he is. He has given 25 gifts to a total value of £146,000.

But that very first donation was the most important. From a complete outsider, he recognised the need I was talking about and was prepared to put money behind it. That is how charities like Changing Faces start and that is what keeps us going forward:

Because people believe as Greville did – and does – that it “needs doing”.

What is more, I could write to other prospective donors and say “I had already received substantial support”!

Greville and Lisa: you spring-boarded so much – mega thanks!

Doing good


L-R Jayne Woodley of Oxfordshire Community Foundation, James Partridge, John Nickson

A great evening at the Oxford Union last week! So fascinating to be part of an ancient debating tradition that goes back to Gladstone who was President of the Union in 1830. I stood at the despatch box – opposing the motion – on the same boards as many giants of the political world and wider society of the past 185 years.

It was all done in a very formal process conducted under the watchful eye of Charles Vaughan, the President of the Oxford Union in his white tie and tails.

Those supporting the motion, James Bevan of CCLA, Nigel Mercer, President of the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons and Sali Hughes, beauty writer and columnist constructed some formidable arguments to support the spending of money on ‘looking good’.

It has economic value, of course – providing employment for millions of people and much scope for charitable giving to medical research and other good causes. And no-one could dispute that the skills of plastic surgeons can improve a person’s looks… and I, for one, do not object to that provided the patient – or customer – has been given realistic information about the risks and benefits and has been told of other ways of gaining self-esteem.

The debate was really about the balance of society’s spending as Professor Danny Dorling and John Nickson and I tried to explain – and with the certainty that the state will be withdrawing from many areas of civil society in the years ahead, there is a real and urgent need to re-balance our priorities towards ‘doing good’.

There were many examples of how that spending could make a difference – but my one regret is that the nine-minute rule for all speakers prevented us elaborating on why such spending, giving or volunteering can make such a difference.

I am immensely proud of the work of Changing Faces’ staff, volunteers, ambassadors and many other people who have been transforming the lives and future prospects of anyone who experiences a disfigurement as I did years ago from severe burns at the age of 18 – and you can read about most significant impact in the last year on our website. My next blog will cover what we are seeking philanthropy for.

Lastly, a big thank you to my supporters for coming and cheering – and to the Oxfordshire Community Foundation for organising such a treat!

Fundraising challenges: what they should be (painfully)

I fear the next target of the media’s current interest in charity fundraising may be ‘challenge events’ – you know what I mean: ‘get sponsored to join XYZ charity to run / cycle / walk / drive / negotiate the really tricky route from A to B’. Cynics can easily find fault: ‘nothing more than sight-seeing’, ‘just glorified holidays’…

Changing Faces wants none of it – and I suspect no charity does. But the whole sector sadly can be tarred sadly by a very few cowboys.

On Sunday, I took the train to Garsdale in the Yorkshire Dales to join Christine, one of the Changing Faces team, who has been demonstrating – and has done so brilliantly over the years – that fundraising challenges should be just that – seriously difficult undertakings which deserve people’s financial support and reward.

Christine and I in the driving rain!

Christine and I in the driving rain!

She has put herself through severe annual biking expeditions for the last seven years and has raised more than £15,000 for Changing Faces in the process – never easy trips with Land’s End to John O’Groats in three weeks just one of her many achievements!

This year, she concocted a ‘Hills of the North’ challenge cycling from Scarborough across the country to Ravenglass on the west coast of Cumbria, north to Carlisle, across the border to Kelso and then via Alnwick to Durham and finally via Kirkbymoorside back to Scarborough. 513 miles, she estimated.

And, partly because I have loved cycling since childhood and I’d never been to the Lake District, I volunteered to accompany here on a stage – and what a stage it turned out to be!

It rained most of Sunday afternoon, evening and night but, miraculously, we set off on Monday before 7.30am in the dry, with 65 miles ahead… a do-able, relatively gentle trundle, I imagined.

We went through Sedbergh (after a couple of very tough hills before Garsdale) and rode into Kendal just before 10am – 25 miles done, not a drop of rain, with a lovely downhill once we had managed to beat the brutal one-in-six hill up to the M6 motorway and the horrid two mile uphill drag from the motorway junction. My legs were starting to realise this was not going to be a Sunday afternoon doddle.

As we headed to Windermere, the rain started and became incessant by the time we reached Bowness, full of tourists in their pack-a-macs! And of course, I stood and quietly coo-ed at the Beatrix Potter shop… how much I’ve enjoyed tales of Mr McGregor over the years!

But then it was back in the saddle and up to Ambleside, not the quiet lake-hugging meander we’d imagined but a fast, busy road – and for cyclists, one with the unexpected hazard of loose grit flying up from car tyres. Not pleasant. Ambleside for lunch in the mist and drizzle – not quite what I’d imagined but a welcome chance to stand and stretch legs… and plan the last 25 miles.

Christine is very well-prepared – meticulous, even – in her route-planning as you’d expect after thousands of cycling-miles. And so I was shown the map – and the plan to go over something called Hardknott Pass… with two little > > symbols on the road, a white road and so off-piste… But the map had no contours so we had little warning.

And so we set off… What I didn’t know then was that we would climb 2,211ft and come down 2,385ft and that Google maps predicted 2hr 51 mins for the 22 miles – double what it would take on the flat! Nor did I know that that Hardknott Pass is the steepest road in England at one-in-three for a long, long way.

It was probably the most severe endurance test I have ever faced – worse than the London Marathon by a long way. It was a very long steep hill which, with bags of luggage on our bikes, we had no chance of cycling up (and even without the luggage…). We had to push up and up and up – and it was slippery, steep and interminable. And just to put us in our place, as we approached the top of the Wrynose Pass, a youngster probably inspired by Chris Froome came past us without stopping or walking… ‘more power to you’!

Cloud hindered our view, but not our determination

Cloud hindered our view, but not our determination

Getting over Wrynose, down into the valley and then up to Hardknott, was so very challenging with the rain drizzling and the wind whistling and no visibility. We were pleased to get there!

And then down the other side, such a steep road down, brakes screaming, cars skidding… but at least we were going downhill!

When we got to the bottom, the rain became torrential for the last seven miles – and our map didn’t warn us that there was another very severe one-in-four climb before we could finally freewheel into Ravenglass – and straight into the delightful Ratty Arms… shades of Beatrix Potter and what a refuge it was for two utterly drenched drowned rats!

Hardknott Pass’s history according to Wikipedia is:

The road was originally built by Romans around AD 110 to link the coastal fort and baths at Ravenglass with their garrisons at Ambleside and Kendal. The Romans called this road the Tenth Highway. The road fell into disrepair after the Romans left Britain in the early 5th century, although it remained as an unpaved packhorse route thereafter. The road was originally used entirely for military traffic, but following the Romans’ retreat from Britain was used to transport lead and agricultural goods. By the early Middle Ages, the road was known as the Waingate (“cart road”) or Wainscarth (“cart pass”): there is an 1138 record of a party of monks traversing it in an oxcart.

If you want to find out more, try this page.

So, getting to the point: fundraising challenges should be just that – serious challenges. Sponsorship monies recognise that – and charities benefit.

Christine at Ravenglass station

Christine at Ravenglass station

Christine is raising wonderful funds for Changing Faces. If you’d like to support her – us – please visit her JustGiving page.

Thank you very much!