Everyone fired up for charity fundraiser challenge

It IS the dog-eat-dog show which brings out a ruthless streak in contestants and ensures anyone who shows their better side gets fired.

But BBC One's The Apprentice yesterday inspired a wave of seasonal kindness in Yorkshire as local financiers took charge of Sense charity shops to drum up thousands of pounds of Christmas business and keep the cash registers ringing all day.

Teams from asset funders Lombard put their money-making skills to the test and competed against one another in a national challenge to raise more than 60,000 for Sense, the deafblind charity.

The charity's shops in Barnsley, Castleford, Skipton and Shipley were commandeered by workers from the Rotherham and West Yorkshire offices of Lombard.

They donned Santa Claus outfits, hired singers and stocked an array of unique items in a bid to raise the kind of money that would make Lord Sugar proud.

Wendy Harrison, the branch manager at Skipton, said volunteers seized the opportunity to take part in their own Apprentice-style competition.

"It's been fabulous," she said. "All the Lombard staff have been really nice and everyone's enjoyed themselves.

"One got into Scooby Doo fancy dress to attract some attention and they've all been out with collection boxes getting donations.

"We've raised 1,500 though the till which is way, way more than what we usually take.

"This was our first time being involved in the event but hopefully we'll do it again next year."

Mrs Harrison showed her own business acumen too.

"I was in the shop window showing off our bike, which we eventually sold for 120," she said.

"The person who bought it wanted to buy me too! I had a sing into a children's microphone before that went as well."

Stephen Hall, manager of the shop in Barnsley, said the day had gone very well.

"We had a pub singer outside the shop enticing people in and we raised around 900, which is double our usual takings."

Speaking of the would-be Apprentice candidates, he said: "They've been great and done really well. They brought all their own stock in so we had lots of different goods to sell.

"Someone brought in a stuffed weasel called Cliff.

"That went, but I won't say how much for – we marketed it as a virtual pet."

Mr Hall said an auction of special gifts had raised another 700, with one of the lots, a three course meal in a box at Sheffield Wednesday, selling for 125.

Castleford shop manager, Susan Morton, said her team stuck with Christmas essentials of wrapping paper, cards and sweets to ensure bumper money totals.

"We sold five rolls of Christmas paper for a pound and that was very popular," she said. "The people from Lombard have been wonderful, one dressed as Father Christmas and another as an elf.

"They were doing all this selling and all this collecting.

"We raised 500, which is a lot better than usual."

Jacqueline Maitland, manager of the shop in Shipley , told a similar story.

"It went great, we were selling just about everything.

"We had lots of clothes, gifts, cakes – all the kids were out of school and they loved it."

She said the volunteers had been fantastic and added: "I'd do it again, we raised 675."

Mark Booth, the director for West Yorkshire Lombard, was doing his best Alan Sugar impression at the Skipton store.

He helped organise the auction there which saw a host of special sporting memorabilia go under the hammer.

Lots included a signed picture of former world champion boxer Ricky Hatton, an England football shirt signed by Manchester City star James Milner, and an England cricket shirt and tie signed by Ryan Sidebottom.

The auction is expected to raise another 1,500 – but does not finish until Monday. Those looking to bids can do so by calling 0113 307 8300.

Mr Booth said: "It's been really nice to work with the people who do this day-in, day-out. It was very enjoyable. We like to support charities and Sense is the one we've chosen on a national scale."

The charity has supported and campaigned for children and adults who are deafblind for more than 50 years.

There are currently 356,000 deafblind people in the UK. The number is set to increase by 60 per cent to 570,000 people in 2030 with the over-70s most affected. Sense provides specialist information, advice and services to deafblind people, their families, carers and professionals who work with them.

Hopeful alleges favouritism

Fired Apprentice hopeful Liz Locke has claimed Lord Sugar axed her to keep rival Stuart Baggs in the competition – because he sees him as a "mini-me".

The glamorous investment banker had been the bookmakers' favourite to win a job with Lord Sugar but has become the latest contestant to be booted off.

Locke said: "In that boardroom I felt a sinking feeling as I felt Lord Sugar looking at Stuart with a kind of admiration – a bit like he saw him as a mini-Sugar."

Meanwhile, former Apprentice contestant Christopher Farrell will appear before magistrates in Plymouth later this month, it was revealed yesterday. He is charged with four counts of fraud by false representation.