New Year cheer to charity drive for school cash

JERRY Lockspeiser knows a thing or two about wine. He also knows a thing or two about Africa and the plight of its people, having lived and worked there as a teacher for a year. Now he is bringing his two loves together by creating the Millione Foundation with the aim of raising £1m from the sale of a special sparkling wine, Millione.

His aim is to build 20 schools in Sierra Leone which will educate 10,000 primary school children a year as well as give jobs to local workers and help the local economy.

Jerry, who worked with disadvantaged children and in adult education, is the man behind successful Leeds wine business Bottle Green, which he sold three years ago for a reported 25m.

When he sold up, Bottle Green employed 32 people in Leeds and was selling four million cases of wine a year to the UK and worldwide market.

Jerry is the first to admit that he didn't know anything about wine when he started his first business, Vinceremos in Leeds with 250 in 1985.

"When my son Liam was born in 1983, my partner and I did a role reversal where I gave up my job and became a househusband and she continued working," explains Jerry.

"At the time this was relatively rare. I had been looking after kids and doing bits of paid work for about four years before I hit upon an idea for a business supplying wines that other people didn't supply.

"The first wine I bought was a wine I'd had on a flight and it was from the Soviet Union. I wondered whether I could buy it in England and I eventually managed to buy a case of it which I used to give to friends."

This started an interest in wines from unusual countries and organic wines before they became widely available. What started as a bit of a hobby grew into a flourishing business supplying small retailers and individuals which saw him give up his day job as an adult education teacher.

But then the recession of the 1990s hit and Jerry nearly lost his business. He was forced to make people redundant in order to survive, something he hated doing. It made him realise that he needed more security and so set up Bottle Green supplying branded wines to supermarkets.

All the time he was building up his business, however, he never forgot the year he spent working as a teacher in the Sudan after studying Politics and Economics at York University.

On his return from Africa he did an MA in African Studies, before becoming an adult education lecturer and then a successful businessman.

"I had always had a dream of bringing the two things together – my love of Africa and my knowledge of wine and business. A few years ago I came up with the idea of creating a wine which we could sell to raise money to build schools in Africa."

But it wasn't until he left Bottle Green that he had the time to invest in the project that his dream became a reality.

"I discussed the idea of setting up a not-for-profit organisation to promote the wine with two colleagues, Mike Paul and Cliff Roberson, who know a lot about wine. We have more than 100 years wine experience between us. We didn't want to be accused of doing this for commercial gain and so we set up the Millione Foundation."

The idea was to source a bottle of sparkling ros wine, Millione, and donate a 1 from each 7.99 bottle to the foundation.

"We want to raise 1m by selling one million bottles," explains Jerry. "We want people to become one in a Millione."

With the 1m, the Millione Foundation, with the help of its partner Action Aid, aims to build 20 primary schools in Sierra Leone. Each school costs 50,000 to build and will educate 500 pupils – that's 10,000 primary aged children a year.

"I have been a supporter of the work of Action Aid for more than 20 years. I went to them with the idea and they gave me dossiers on different places in the world. I read through lots of projects from Sierra Leone to Cambodia and Brazil. In the end we chose Sierra Leone for a number of reasons. Action Aid has been working there for more than 20 years and they know how to ensure that the money is properly spent and that was very important to us. They have built schools there before."

Jerry explained that the civil war in Sierra Leone finished ten years ago but in that time a lot of infrastructure, including the primary schools, was destroyed.

"Well over 1,000 primary schools were obliterated. A lot of people were killed and maimed. It got back to a pretty low base and they are slowly trying to rebuild.

"By building primary schools we are creating work for local people in the form of building work, using local material. They will be their schools, run and staffed by them. This is not a hand out, this is something which will enable them to build a better future for themselves."

Jerry recently visited Sierra Leone with Action Aid to see for himself the people and places the Millione Foundation wants to help.

"I explained to some people out there that we wanted to provide the money as a seed so they can take responsibility for improving their lives. One lady said to me: 'If you give us the seed we will grow the fruit'. And that is exactly what we want to achieve."

What also makes Millione unique is that all the people involved have reduced their costs to enable the 1 to be donated to the foundation.

"One of the key points is that we are trying to bring everyone together in the supply chain. Everyone involved has given us reduced rates.

"It is important that everyone buys into this, including the public or else we won't achieve our goal. Everyone seems to think it is a great idea and so they want to be part of it."

Because the Millione Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation Jerry says they have no marketing or advertising budget and so they are using new media and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to get the message out there.

"We need this to go viral," says Jerry. "We need people to talk about it. Word of mouth is the way we are going to reach our target."

And they already have some pretty big celebrity backers including Stephen Fry, Faye Ripley and Emma Thompson.

Emma Thompson said at an event to launch Millione: "Oh that's lovely... full of hope and joy and that's the best taste I've ever tasted in a wine."

Jerry hopes if Millione proves successful in the UK then it will be made available in other countries. His dream is to turn Millione into a bigger fund-raising businesses helping communities across the world.

"There is no reason why you can't extend this. We could do a white and a red, but we could also develop it beyond wine into other areas to make Millione a recognisable brand. But what I really want to do is ask people what they think.

"When we hit our 1m, should we continue? What do they think we should do? This is all about our customers and I think they should help decide where we go in the future."

HOW DONATIONS BUILD SCHOOLS

The Millione Foundation is a not-for-profit business working in partnership with ActionAid. Millione is a Frizzante wine made from Chardonnay grapes with a touch of Merlot. Frizzante means it is less fizzy than fully sparkling wines like Champagne or Prosecco.

Millione costs 7.99 and is available on the high street in all ASDAs, many Tescos, Sainsbury's, Waitrose and Morrisons.

A donation of 1 from the sale of each and every bottle goes to build primary schools in Sierra Leone, West Africa. The target: 1 million bottles equals 1m.

www.oneinamillione.com