A new £50,000 hydrotherapy pod is set to be installed at a sports centre in Market Harborough in the spring – 30 years after the charity bankrolling it was launched.
Moves to set up the new Hippo Appeal hi-tech treatment and rehab unit for disabled people at Harborough Leisure Centre have moved a big step forward after crunch talks were held.
Veteran local fundraiser Carole Tilley, 73, and Harborough MP Neil O’Brien are now setting their sights on installing the hydrotherapy pod at the sports complex on Northampton Road in the next few months.
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Today Carole told the Harborough Mail: “I can’t believe that we are finally getting there and making real solid progress after three decades.
“I never thought when I helped to launch the Hippo Appeal way back in 1992 that it would take half a lifetime to make this happen.
“But thanks to our supporters, people like Neil O’Brien and the Harborough Mail for getting behind me we are within touching distance of making our dream of all those years ago come true.”
The inspiring charity stalwart spoke out after Charity Commission chiefs staged a meeting with the Hippo Appeal’s trustee, Cllr Roger Dunton, MP Neil O’Brien and representatives of Harborough Leisure Centre and Harborough District Council.
“The purpose of the meeting was to discuss Mr Dunton’s proposal to use the dormant charitable funds of the former registered charity, Market Harborough Hydrotherapy Project (Harborough Hippo Appeal), to install a hydrotherapy pod at Harborough Leisure Centre, which is owned by the local authority and run by a commercial company,” the Charity Commission told the Mail.
“The dormant charitable funds were raised by the local community over 30 years ago to set up a hydrotherapy pool in the local area for people with disabilities.
“Mr Dunton is the signatory of the bank account for the charity.
“The parties agreed that Mr Dunton would need to make certain changes to his proposal to ensure the charitable funds will be used only for the specific purpose of providing a hydrotherapy pool for people with disabilities, as was originally intended,” said the Commission, which oversees and regulates charities in the UK.
“The Charity Commission was made aware of the dormant charitable funds in March 2021 and has been engaging with Mr Dunton since then so that the funds are used as originally intended.”
The key virtual get-together was chaired by Chris Sladen, Head of Proactive Casework at the Charity Commission.
“It was a positive meeting and the parties involved made progress towards resolving this issue.
“We now look to Councillor Dunton to make the necessary changes to his proposal, so that the charitable funds can be used at Harborough Leisure Centre for the installation of a hydrotherapy pod.,” said Mr Sladen.
“The Commission was clear at the meeting that the charitable funds must be safeguarded for the specific purpose of setting up a hydrotherapy pool in the local area for people with disabilities as originally intended.
“If the necessary changes to the proposal are made, the next step will be to consider appointing trustees who can monitor the use of the funds.
“I recognise how strongly the parties involved feel about ensuring the charitable funds are used locally - and for the benefit of the people of Market Harborough,” he stressed.
Carole, of Bath Street, Market Harborough, added: “We have to get there now.
“I can’t believe, and no one in Market Harborough can believe, that it’s taken us an incredible 30 years to get to this stage.
“Can you imagine how many disabled people in Harborough who badly need treatment and rehabilitation could have been helped over the last 30 years if the people running the Hippo Appeal had got their act together?
“It doesn’t bear thinking about.
“I’ve raised tens of thousands of pounds for charities in and around Market Harborough over the last 50 years,” insisted Carole.
“And I’ve always handed over the money within months of getting it all in.
“So there’s absolutely no excuse for taking from 1992-2022 to get this over the line.
“It’s absolutely staggering.
“And some people involved in this shambles should be hanging their heads in shame.”
She is now being lined up by the Charity Commission to become a new trustee of the Hippo Appeal to help supervise its £50,000 pot and run it in future.
“I am very much up for that because this entire crusade has been very close to my heart for so long,” said Carole.
“I want to make sure that we get this hydrotherapy pod set up now at our town’s busy sports centre if it’s the last thing I do.”
Harborough MP Neil O’Brien told the Mail: “It was a very useful meeting that I attended and an important step forward - so I’m grateful to the Charity Commission for looking into this and convening this meeting.
“We appear to be finally close to the end of this, which is very welcome news given that the funds were raised an amazing 30 years ago.
“Once again, I’d like to pay huge tribute to Carole Tilley for her magnificent efforts on this as she wants to see the funds raised going towards the cause it was raised for - hydrotherapy for local residents,” said the Conservative MP.
“Subject to the necessary process and checks, Carole would be a fantastic trustee to help oversee this important work.”
Matthew Hopkin, the contract manager of Everyone Active which operates Harborough Leisure Centre, said: “We are pleased by the outcome of this meeting and will continue to work with all stakeholders to move this project forward.
“Once the changes to the proposal have been made by the Hippo Appeal and approved by the Charity Commission, we will have a clearer picture on a timescale for the installation of the hydrotherapy pod.
“We anticipate that once approved and purchased, the pod will take around 12 weeks to be built, delivered and installed.”
Cllr Roger Dunton, who has represented Market Harborough’s Welland ward on Harborough District Council for the Liberal Democrats since 1987, has been asked for a comment.