Changing lives at school in Africa and at home

Matthew Norton
Matthew Norton
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Three years ago Matthew Norton cycled from his Yorkshire home to Africa to raise money for a school there. Now he is trying to change the face of fund-raising Catherine Scott reports.

He was raising funds for Memusi School in Magadi, Kenya which he and his wife, Sally, have supported since they first visited to Africa in 2006.

Moved by the plight of the children struggling to get a decent education, they set up the Memusi Foundation. There are now 252 primary aged children being educated at Memusi. They are also seetting up a secondary school, the only one in a 200 mile radius. They also have schools in Mlali, Tanzania, and in Narok, Kenya helping hundreds of children get an education.

The cycle ride, which took 14 days in 2011, had its far share of drama after one rider fell seriously ill and Matthew suffered a recurrance of colitis, a condition he has had for a number of years.

Since returning to the UK the dad of twin boys has been busy and has set his sights on an even bigger challenge.

“While I was cycling to Africa I felt that I shouldn’t be doing the job I was doing working for Lloyds Banking Group in IT. I decided that I should be doing something else to do with my charity work.”

But when he returned LBG asked whether he would work full-time expanding their voluntary and charity work.

“I wasn’t sure but then somene said to me where else could I inspire 100,000 people.”

It was while working in his new job that Matthew came up with the idea of harnessing a large number of people to raise more money.

“Our cycle was amazing and we had a lot of highs and lows and we raised £80,000. But the problem is people kept asking me what I was going to do next. How do you better cycling to Africa? Cycling around the world, I suppose.But then you are faced with always having to ask the same people to sponsor you.

“I came up with the concept of trying to ecnourage lots of people to do a bit to achieve a lot.” He first tested his theory as part of LBG’s support for the Save the Children FAST programme which focuses on getting UK children from deprived families back into education.

“I was thinking about the round the world thing and started to think how many people would it take to cycle round the world at ten miles an hour in 24 hours,” explains Matthew.

In the end he had more than 1,500 people over two events and across the world including Madrid, Frankfurt, Dubai, Berlin, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Uruguay, Jersey and the Isle of Man raising £420,000 for Save the Children.

Matthew then took a much-needed break from fund-raising for 12 months and concentrated on the volunteering side of his job,

“I spoke in front of 5,000 people and was interviewed by Jonathan Edwards. Working in this sector made me realise that nothing was more powerful than people seeing first hand what people are up against and just how they can help. It can be life changing.”

It made him realise that he could use this to help the people in Memusi and the other schools his charity supports. So he set about creating a volunteering programme to the school.

“We set up a project taking group of ten to 15 out to work in Africa for a week at a time. They got to work with the children and to experience a bit of life out there. It is amazing the effect had on them. People came back and said it had changed their lives. We wanted people to experience what we had experienced.”

Seeing how successful the volunteering programme was with adults, Matthew decided to extend it to younger people.

“We are working with a number of other charities in the UK who work with disadvantaged children and those from difficult backgrounds who could never afford £1,000 to go to Africa to organise two trips.”

The first trip is due to go out in October with a group of 16 to 18-year-olds.

“We really want them to have a life changing experience,” says Matthew.

“People come back and say it has completely transformed their lives, they come back with values they never had before they went. We want to provide that opportunity for these young people for whom it could be life-changing.”

Although the young people are organising their own fund-raising events, Matthew has launched a new funs-raising drive for the charity.

Two months ago he decided to repeat the fund-raising idea he had started with Save the Children and launched Eat, Sleep, Bike, Repeat at the Recco Arena in Coventry.

“A number of years in the planning, we wanted a challenge that would provide an opportunity for people to unlock their potential, one that will inspire and one that is a challenge surrounded by a festival feel for participants and families. Eat, Sleep, Bike, Repeat was born and delivered an outstanding event that really delivered and we are delighted to bring back by popular demand,” says Matthew.

“It is important to realise the difference that is also being made to the lives of other globally by the challenge taking place. In 2014 over £30k was raised and we look to double that in 2015 applying a principle through fundraising and through the challenge that ‘lots of people doing a little will achieve a lot’.”

So successful was the event that plans are well underway for Eat Sleep Bike Repeat 2015 in July next year. This time the venue is the Holmfirth Vineyard close to Matthew’s home.

“It will be an amazing event, with a real festival atmosphere,” he explained.