New £50,000 hydrotherapy pod could finally be built in Harborough –  29 years after the charity behind it was launched

New moves are going ahead to install the specialist treatment and rehab unit at Harborough Leisure Centre

Tuesday, 20th July 2021, 10:53 am
Updated Tuesday, 20th July 2021, 10:54 am
Charity campaigner Carole Tilley helped to set up the town’s Hippo Appeal to bankroll a therapy pool way back in 1992.

A new £50,000 hydrotherapy pod could be about to be set up at a sports centre in Market Harborough – 29 years after the charity behind it was launched.

New moves are going ahead to install the specialist treatment and rehab unit at Harborough Leisure Centre on Northampton Road, Market Harborough.

But inspirational charity campaigner Carole Tilley, 72, who helped to set up the town’s Hippo Appeal to bankroll a therapy pool way back in 1992 declared – I’ll believe it when I see it!

Matthew Hopkin, contract manager for the leisure complex’s operator Everyone Active, told the Harborough Mail: “We are working closely with Harborough District Council on plans for a hydrotherapy pod to be installed at Harborough Leisure Centre.”

He said they are hoping to say much more about the intriguing blueprint very soon.

“We are pleased to say that progress is being made and we hope to provide further positive news on this development in the near future,” said Mr Hopkin.

He said they are “working closely” with Cllr Roger Dunton, a trustee of the Hippo Appeal, as they bid to push through the scheme.

Everyone Active runs the ageing leisure site alongside Harborough District Council.

Cllr Phil King, who leads the council, told the Mail: “We have received a request for us to consider the installation of a hydrotherapy pod at Harborough Leisure Centre.

“Our legal team is currently looking into our contract with our leisure provider, Everyone Active, as we anticipate that this is something that they may be able to agree to themselves without authorisation from the council.”

And he stressed: “We just want to be reassured that the focus at this stage is on the recovery of leisure services across the district.”

Cllr King insisted that the hard-up council will not be ploughing any money into the project itself.

“We won’t be putting any cash into this ourselves.

“I can only assume that all of the money is being put up by the Hippo Appeal.

“I am pleased that the charity’s funds may finally being put to good use,” said Cllr King.

“It’s not right to hang on to these funds for almost 30 years.

“If this hydrotherapy pod goes ahead it will at least be sited near the town’s football and rugby clubs.

“And it could be used to treat players’ injuries and do some good,” said Cllr King.

“But this pod would only treat one person at a time.

“It will be nowhere near as big as the therapy pool envisaged by campaigners when they started the Hippo Appeal three decades ago.

“We’ve also got our legal team investigating this plan.

“Looking down the line there’s no way that we as a council want to have any sort of liability for this facility.”

The council chief spoke as Harborough MP Neil O’Brien fired off a hard-hitting letter to a Government minister demanding urgent action over the Hippo Appeal.

Neil is urging Baroness Barran, the Minister for Civil Society, to act now as the cash raked in over almost three decades is still sitting in a bank account run by Cllr Dunton.

The Conservative MP is acting after he wrote to Charity Commission chief executive Helen Stephenson on April 30 in a bid to break the astonishing stalemate stretching back to 1992.

Neil was set to meet Charity Commission director of policy Paul Latham on Friday (July 16) to discuss the bizarre 29-year stand-off.

“I’ll be firing a whole bunch of tough questions at him because we need to know what’s going on here.

“It will be brilliant if the hydrotherapy pod is finally set up at Harborough Leisure Centre – it’s taken long enough,” said the MP.

“But if it doesn’t work out then I want the Hippo Appeal’s money to be spent for its original purpose of setting up a therapy pool.”

Neil says in his letter to Baroness Barran: “I write to you regarding a charity matter that has been of ongoing concern to a number of my constituents for 29 years, in your role as Minister for Civil Society.

“I have attached a letter I sent to the Charity Commission back in April of this year, which provides the background and sets out the concerns in further detail.

“Further to this letter, I’m disappointed that progress remains both limited and frustratingly slow,” the MP says.

“I understand the Commission have engaged with Roger Dunton on this.

“But from the updates I have received appear to be no further forward in actually allocating the £50,000 for the charitable purposes it was initially raised for.

“I would be grateful for your intervention in this important matter, that continues to cause concern to many of my constituents who were involved in the fundraising efforts nearly 30 years ago.”

Neil declared that a string of “false promises” have been made over the progress made by the ill-fated Hippo Appeal – set up to bankroll a £250,000 hydrotherapy pool - over the years.

“A number of false promises about progress have been given over recent years.

“But we remain in a position where the funds raised remain sat in an account linked to a charity that is no longer registered with the Commission.

“A highly unsatisfactory position I am sure many would agree,” insists the MP.

“If this could please be raised and an informative response could be provided that I could share with my constituents, this would be much appreciated.”

A Charity Commission spokeswoman said they are talking to Cllr Dunton to establish what he is doing after launching an investigation into the saga.

“We recognise that there is considerable concern about this matter in Market Harborough and we continue to engage with the trustee as part of our examination of this matter,” she told the Mail.

“Our intention remains to ensure that the funds raised are applied locally and in line with the original purposes of the trust.”

Carole Tilley has told Cllr Dunton to give her the funds to boost other top charities she helps to support across Harborough.

But the Charity Commission stressed that the “law does not allow funds raised for a specific purpose to be applied to a charity with entirely different legal objects”.

“So we are engaging with the trustee, and advising him on the most appropriate ways to expend the charitable funds in line with the Charities Act 2011,” said the Commission.

“This may include directing the funds of the former charity to be used by a charity with similar charitable purposes in the local area.”

The Hippo Appeal was mysteriously deregistered as a charity with the Charity Commission in 2009.

The organisation, which oversees and regulates charities in England and Wales, has now used its powers to make sure the Hippo Appeal cash has not been “misappropriated”.

“We used our power under section 52 of the Charities Act 2011 to confirm that the funds still remain in the former charity's bank account and have not been misappropriated,” said the Commission.

Asked about installing a new therapy pod at Harborough leisure Centre, Carole told the Mail: “I’ll believe it when I see it!

“I hope with all my heart that this goes ahead – and that we start helping people needing treatment.

“But Roger Dunton has told me time and again over the years that he was working hand in hand with the sports centre – and nothing’s ever happened.

“I cannot believe this is still going on after nearly 30 years.

“We set this fantastic cause up way back in 1992 to bring a new therapy pool to Harborough to help so many people suffering from all sorts of devastating illnesses, conditions and injuries,” said Carole, of Bath Street, Market Harborough.

“If you’d told me then that we’d still be trying to set up this pool in 2021 I’d have said you were mad.

“I’m pleased that our MP Neil O’Brien is telling the Minister to sort out this fiasco once and for all.

“People here in the town can’t believe that this absolute farce is still very much with us – and I don’t blame them.”