A Market Harborough councillor is coming under mounting pressure over a warchest of almost £50,000 raised by a town charity he helped launch a staggering 29 years ago.
Cllr Roger Dunton, 74, is facing growing calls from Harborough MP Neil O’Brien, Harborough District Council leader Phil King and veteran Market Harborough fundraiser Carole Tilley to act now.
They are all urging the Hippo Appeal trustee to finally put the charity’s £48,000 pot of cash to “good use” almost three decades after it was set up way back in 1992 to fund a £250,000 hydrotherapy pool.
Demands for action are being stepped up after Cllr Dunton has now been told by hard-up Harborough council they can’t afford to help him bankroll the pool at Harborough Leisure Centre on Northampton Road, Market Harborough.
And the Charity Commission, which registers and regulates charities in England “to ensure that the public can support charities with confidence”, has told the Harborough Mail it is aware of “concerns” about the Hippo Appeal and is investigating.
Lifelong charity stalwart Carole Tilley, 72, who helped to fire up the mission nearly 30 years ago, told the Mail: “I simply cannot believe that we are no further forward.
“If you had told me in 1992 that all of the money we raised would still be sitting there in a Harborough Building Society account in 2021 I’d have said you were stark raving bonkers.
“This beggars belief.
“I bet there’s not another charity anywhere in the UK where this has gone on,” said Carole, of Bath Street, Market Harborough.
“We are still nowhere near getting a hydrotherapy pool.
“Now I’ve had a letter from the council telling me that they can’t help Roger Dunton set up the pool at the sports centre because they have no money.
“So what is he going to do now?
“I’ll tell you what he should do.
“He should pull his finger out and hand this cash over to other local charities who can put all our money to good use,” said Carole, who’s got behind a string of top Harborough charities over the last 50 years.
“I can’t put into words that could be used in a family newspaper how furious I am about this.
“It is absolutely outrageous.
“Many of my friends and family walked and ran and did so many other things to help rake in this huge sum of £48,000 for the Hippo Appeal.
“They devoted so many hours of hard work and effort as well as donating their own hard-earned money to fund this pool to help people seriously struggling.
“Roger Dunton is well into his 70s now.
“I can never see him actually setting up a therapy pool and realising the dream we had all those years ago,” said Carole.
“So he’s got to help out other brilliant local charities such as Leicestershire Wildlife Hospital at Kibworth instead.
“This whole saga reflects very poorly on Market Harborough as a town.
“So many people ask me all the time what’s happening to the cash that we brought in.
“They are so shocked when I tell them that we are as far back as ever.
“I think about the Hippo Appeal every night when I go to bed and every morning when I get up.
“It’s always on my mind,” revealed Carole.
“I will keep fighting to the day I die to make sure that all the cash we raised is spent to help others.”
Cllr King, who as well as heading up Harborough council is also a member of the Chartered Institute of Fundraising, told the Mail: “This situation is becoming totally absurd now.
“Roger Dunton has been told that the council cannot help him install a therapy pool or pod at the leisure centre.
“So he has a decision to make.
“Is it still realistic to try to set up a pool 29 years on?
“Is it practical to hand back the money generated to every single good-hearted person who raised it?
“Or should he start thinking about transferring the funds to another local charity or charities so the money can be beneficially used?
“One way or the other Roger Dunton has to sort this out once and for all,” declared Cllr King.
“I am concerned that this money is sat there without any protection.
“Carole Tilley and her fellow Hippo Appeal supporters have every right to be mystified as to why this cash still hasn’t been spent so many years on.
“I’ve been involved in fundraising myself for 20 years.
“We have clear rules and codes of practice when it comes to raising money and running charities,” said Cllr King.
“I am very surprised that this situation with the Hippo Appeal has been allowed to drag on for so long without any resolution.
“I cannot understand it.”
Harborough MP Neil O’Brien said: “This needs to be brought to a conclusion.
“This money could be given to a charity which helps people suffering physical pain.
“There are a lot of excellent charities in the Market Harborough area which could spend these funds wisely.”
Asked how he would feel donating today to a charity that still hadn’t spent the money raised in 2050, Neil replied: “Wow!
“That really does put how long this has carried on into perspective.
“I was still at school when the Hippo Appeal was launched in 1992.
“We just need to bring this to a satisfactory conclusion now.”
Cllr Dunton, who’s also a trustee of the Harborough-based Howard Watson Symington Memorial Charity, said: “Harborough Leisure Centre is still the ideal place to set up the hydrotherapy pool.
“I can’t find a better place for it.
“It’s not out of the window yet.”
Asked if he can understand the anger of fundraisers like Carole Tilley, the long-serving Liberal Democrat councillor replied: “I can see why they are angry.
“I am determined that this money will be used for hydrotherapy but I need more time to think about this.
“But we are where we are.”
Cllr Dunton said the pot of cash is held in a ‘Hippo Appeal’ account – and has senior local accountant Adrian Bentley as a second signatory on it.
Mr Bentley is a partner in chartered accountants Edward Thomas Peirson & Sons, based at The Point Business Park on Rockingham Road, Market Harborough.
“The plan was to install a pool at the leisure centre," Mr Bentley told the Mail.
“It would be a great shame if this couldn’t happen, very disappointing.
“But if that’s not possible now then all options should be considered.
“I know that Roger has tried many different options over the years.
“Something has to be done with this money but we can’t make any rushed decisions.
“But I will be sitting down to have a conversation with Roger about what we do next.”
The Hippo Appeal was officially de-registered as a charity by the Charity Commission on September 9, 2009 after being registered on August 26, 1993 – a year after the initiative was launched.
The Charity Commission has been asked by the Mail about how and why this highly surprising move was taken but has not shed any more light on it.
However, a Charity Commission spokeswoman did say that they are now investigating “concerns” raised over the Hippo Appeal.
“We are aware of concerns and we are currently assessing information in relation to this matter to establish whether or not there is a role for the Commission,” said the spokeswoman.
“We cannot comment further at this time.”