Sunday, 17 November 2013

Les starts to reveal some untold elements of the project ...

Three years of actual time, but I seemed to have aged ten years, undertaking the Ultimate Challenge so far. I say so far, because we've still got the film to complete. I first thought of the idea September 2010 and actually arrived home having completed the journey 29th August 2013. 

The project involved quite a lot of people, the home team, the road team (those who did the actual driving), our sponsors, supporters and well-wishers. Everybody played their part and contributed to its success. I saw my part in the preparation stages, as driving the project forward and keeping momentum going, equally important for me personally was to remain adamant that I would drive the entire journey myself, irrespective what format the project took. I was to find out soon enough that there were people who thought what I was proposing was crazy at my age. All that did was to make me more determined.

2010 proved to be a challenging time to try to put a fund raising charity project together. The country was in recession and the public was being sucked dry of what money they had by high profile fund raising charities wanting their piece of the action. It was clear to me that it would be a struggle financially from the outset. If I was to rely on donations to fund the project it would take for ever to raise enough money to get started. I thought long and hard about the financial aspect of the project, the first of many obstacles I needed to overcome. I had to find a solution to this problem and at the same time give the public confidence enough to support us. I had a word with my wife Vi about the problem. We are not rich by today's standard but we have enough plus a bit extra so we were comfortable. I think I mentioned previously we lost our son, Lee, to cancer on June 4th 2008. We suffered our loss like any parents would, so to soften it a bit we agreed to start the project by making available up to £50,000 in memory of our son. We also wanted send a message to the effect that I was serious and committed to see the project through to the end. I am not trying to be boastful or big headed by the fact that we made such a contribution, but I wanted it out in the open as to how the financial structure came together before departure.

The other issue that needed to be considered, was how the public would view a group of old guys in their seventies driving around the world for charity. To ensure the project was not seen as a jolly for the boys, I made it clear that everybody taking part as road crew, those doing the actual driving, would pay all their own costs. I arrived at the final cost later on during the preparation, but for the record I worked it out on the assumption that there will be a road crew of eight plus myself and a cameraman. Briefly it worked out that the journey would be in four stages, the cost to participate would depend on how many days the stage lasted. For example, if stage one was twenty days, the contribution would be £5,000 and if stage four was thirty days would come to £6,000. If all went according to plan we would have £46,000 plus part of the money from my contribution which meant that we had around £60,000. The cost of the cameraman would be covered by myself on the assumption that it would be recovered when the film was sold. So six months before departure day it wasn’t looking too bad.

The period leading up to departure day focussed on bringing everybody together. Crew training, acquiring equipment, talking to possible sponsors, documentation and visas, injections and medical checks, and anything else that needed to be dealt with. Throughout the time leading up to departure there were regular meetings with everyone involved to deal with all aspects of the project and in particular the project's finances and the crew contribution. So at that point every one of us knew what the financial commitment would be for anyone taking part. Departure date was set provisionally for the end of April, 2013. About six months before departure day little things began to happen that gave me cause for concern. It began with one of the team pulling out due to medical reasons, others who had expressed interest in the early days were no longer available. Another member who joined us late in the programme had to pull out as his financial circumstances changed. It was becoming a nightmare. Out of the original eight plus myself we were down to four, and it didn’t end there. I needed to do something drastic if the whole thing wasn’t going to fall down around me.

I put an advertisement in the local paper and was pleasantly surprised to get a phone call. We were back up to five. Realising that we needed crew, he said that he had a friend who would like to join us. We were back up to six. At this stage four of us had committed to pay our contributions at the price agreed, however in subsequent meetings when I raised the issue of the other two paying their contribution it seemed to fall on deaf ears. This situation continued up to about six weeks before departure date which had now been set for the March 31st. We had a meeting organised and I had to face up to the possibility of bringing the situation to a head, what I wasn’t prepared for was what actually happened …... to be continued  

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