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Lecture Focuses on Making a Difference for Good

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Bolton School Boys’ Division’s prestigious Tillotson Lecture, now in its forty ninth year, saw two former pupils return to talk to the theme of ‘To Live is to Serve: Making a Difference for Good in the Modern World.’

Head of Foundation, Philip Britton, was delighted to welcome back a large gathering to the Great Hall before - and in line with tradition - School Captain, Ali Ahmed, introduced the two speakers: Max Hopkinson (Class of 2002), Chief Instructor and Co-Founder of marketing agency Bind and Philip Worthington (Class of 2003), Managing Director and founder of European Lawyers in Lesvos.

First to the lectern was Max who had entitled his speech: ‘Hoppy’s Four Principles to Philanthropy’. Hoppy was his father, Nick Hopkinson, Max explained and went on to tell how he was a prolific fundraiser who had died prematurely aged 61, just over six months ago. Max explained how it had come as a great shock as Hoppy was still very fit, having climbed Kilimanjaro ten times in the last decade. Max described him as being very happy and as still having ‘top impact’ as a fundraiser. His lecture, he said, would focus on getting into his father’s philanthropy, in particular four facets of it: the importance of mindset and thinking big; deeply connecting with the work that your charity is doing; leveraging charity to help your own business; and combining what you love doing whilst helping others at the same time.

Concentrating on the first of the four values, Max said his father believed we need to think ten times bigger than where our comfort level is. Hoppy started working with Bolton Lads and Girls’ Club in the early 1990s and he loved the club and its work. His vision, Max explained, was to expand it and to imbue it with a leisure club better than DL gyms. At that time, it was spending about £200,000 per annum but Max’s father’s plan cost £5m. Hoppy catalysed £1m of fundraising and the club convinced the National Lottery to give a £4m grant. The money helped build the club that we know today on Spa Road and, subsequently, thousands more children benefitted. Max said that Hoppy showed people that they do not need to be defined by their fear.

Illustrating the point about connecting with your charity, Max spoke about how boxing proved a ‘Trojan Horse’ to get young people into the club from which instructors could then develop characteristics in the boys and girls such as discipline, structure, perseverance and purpose. Hoppy saw that the boxing programme was a big success and instigated a black tie event at which the club's boxers fought against the army's boxing club. The event proved a big success and encouraged people to donate more money and time to the club. Hoppy had a knack, said Max, of making his stories highly personal, emotional and believable and he always tried to leverage the connection he had with his cause within his fundraising stories.

Max then discussed how his father was opportunistic. He said he probably asked himself these questions before embarking on a project: Is it legal? Would his mum think it was okay? Was there a net positive gain for the children? He recalled how Hoppy took the Wickes leadership team exploring in Ecuador and how they climbed its highest peak; the relationship that ensued helped him further down the line when Wickes was considering dropping his company. Hoppy knew that great relationships are developed when you fundraise together.

Hoppy’s charity scanner was always on, Max informed the audience, and he loved to combine his passions with helping others. One of these was art and Max described how his father befriended artist Harland Miller and suggested to him that they could raise money by selling his prints online. Within half an hour of doing this, they raised £2m for the NHS. The first of the prints they sold was entitled ‘Who Cares Wins’, a copy of which adorned the Great Hall's stage. Hoppy’s own love of art was further enhanced by realising he could leverage it to do good work.

After the death of his father, Max and his brother Oliver decided to run 100km together and call it the Hoppy 100. They had family and friends join them on the ultra-marathon and money was raised for charity. Max explained how he is proud that his business has given more to charity than it has paid out to shareholders. He then left the audience with two take-aways or asks: to think a bit more ambitiously about fundraising and to realise that this requires us to work on battling the fear that stops us from doing things; and to consider whether we can ‘take charity out of the box’ in order to always be aware of possible opportunities to raise money and to do good.

Philip Worthington opened his address by saying that it was 18 years since he left school but that the Great Hall is still as big and intimidating as ever! Philip told how he studied History at York, then at Cambridge. After four years of 'studying lots of dead people', he realised he wanted to help those in the living world. He became a lawyer in a commercial firm, but when he saw the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ unfolding in Greece at the end of 2015, he knew he had to help. He quit his job and took the four-hour flight to Lesvos. Having witnessed first-hand many of the one million refugees arriving from Turkey, having fled primarily from Syria, he came to believe that everyone should be able to live in safety, free from the threat of war or persecution.

Philip told how, upon arrival in Greece, he found thousands of volunteers helping the tens of thousands of refugees transiting through the islands. Many would spend just 24 hours there and then would move onward to the mainland. The audience learnt how, in March 2016, the EU paid Turkey 3 billion Euros to stop the influx, which meant lots of volunteers went home. This turned matters into a legal crisis as people now had to claim asylum in Greece. Philip explained how asylum is a legal process which includes an interview to see if the applicant meets the criteria set out in the Geneva Convention. At this point there were only two private lawyers on Lesvos for 10,000 refugees and Philip came up with the idea of bringing asylum lawyers from across Europe to Lesvos to volunteer for 3 or 4 weeks at a time; from this the charity European Lawyers in Lesvos was created.

Philip explained that his work is all about preparing people for their asylum interview; his belief being that everyone should be entitled to access free, high quality advice from an independent, expert lawyer. He told how he found it ironic that the state provides lawyers for all kinds of matters but not for refugees, even though the outcome of their interview could literally be a matter of life or death. Philip originally planned on being on Lesvos for just a year but this turned out to be a naïve assumption as tens of thousands more people came over from nearby Turkey; predominantly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Philip told how his NGO now has 20 permanent staff on Lesvos, Samos and the mainland, including 9 Greek asylum lawyers and how they have welcomed over 300 volunteer lawyers from 18 European countries. They have assisted more than 13,000 people, 69% of whom have been granted some kind of asylum. Philip also warned how, lately, the rule of law has been sacrificed in the name of speed and it has become much easier to deport someone.

The refugee crisis, Philip said, is a European issue and needs a European solution. People will continue to come because they are fleeing for their lives. Last year more than 1,600 people died crossing the Mediterranean and since 2014, 23,000 have died. He argued that a fair and proportionate distribution of refugees across Europe would have a barely noticeable impact. Considering what he has learnt over the past six years, Philip said that people are the same the world over and that we would all act in a similar manner in the same situation, something which is exemplified by the Ukraine situation at present. He also emphasised that empathy is vitally important and that we must ask ourselves: what would we want to happen if we were in their position? People, he said, just want a chance to rebuild their lives in safety. Philip said he found the latest response to the war in Ukraine both inspiring and troubling – it did show, he said, how, when we want to, we can show empathy and act quickly but asked why was this not the same for refugees arriving in Greece? Put simply, he suggested it was a policy decision to treat these two groups differently.

Finishing by reflecting on his fourteen years at Bolton School, Philip told how the school instilled in him the values of fairness, equality and justice, along with the traits of thinking about others and challenging assumptions. He said he was pleased to see that the school does even more than in his day in terms of volunteering. He told the audience to be a positive change in whatever way you can and to follow your passion, it is the most powerful tool that you have. Anything, he said, can be changed if we put our minds to it; it all starts with us.

There then followed a questions and answers session, in which the topics of career changes, the character building aspects of school and the importance of taking risks to follow your passions were all discussed, along with why there were such differences to how Europe responded to the treatment of Syrian refugees and Ukrainian refugees.

Finlay Littlefair, Vice-Captain of the School, concluded the evening with a Vote of Thanks.

You can watch the 2022 Tillotson Lecture here.

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