On the Couch with Himalayan Trust UK Chairman Graham Wrigley

Kshamawati Higher Secondary School Hostel
Kshamawati Higher Secondary School Hostel

Since 1989 the Himalayan Trust UK works to help the mountain people of Nepal. Chairman Graham Wrigley met our team in London and spoke about his introduction to Sir Ed and the Trust, the work they currently do and the upcoming 9th Sir Edmund Hillary Memorial Lecture in London.

Could you please introduce us to the Himalayan Trust UK?

The Trust has been in operation since 1989 and our goal is to help the mountain people of Nepal. We provide this help consistent with the ethos that Sir Edmund Hillary originally set up the Himalayan Trust with: “bottoms up”, practical, low cost, a focus on self-help. We are not a big charity, and we are focused in what we do. We do work with communities over the long term and our connections have already lasted 20 years and more.

School in Nepal - Himalayan Trust UK

How did you get involved and what is currently your role with the Himalayan Trust UK?

In 1981 I spent several months as an 18 year old in Nepal. I was sitting on a wall outside Khumjung school and started talking to what appeared, to me, to be quite an old grey haired man. I was boasting about how I had been up over 6,000 metres. He seemed very interested and let me talk. After about 45 minutes, he was called away. I was so embarrassed to find out I had been boasting to Sir Ed!

Inspired by this typical act of modesty, I started fundraising for the Himalayan Trust when I went back to the UK. As the cheques started growing over time, we became quite well acquainted, and then he introduced me to George Lowe. This led to the creation of the Himalayan Trust UK in 1989, with Mary Lowe and my father. The Himalayan Trust UK is run by 13 Trustees and I am currently the Chairman.

There are so many communities in Nepal that require help, especially after the 2015 earthquakes, how do you select where to support?

This is a good question, and over the decades we have switched our focus (slowly and thoughtfully) more towards poorer areas. Back in the '80s and '90s we started to work exclusively in the Khumbu area, but in the mid 2000s we started working in Taplejung – a poor district in east Nepal, in and around Kanchenjunga.

Can you give examples of the work of the Himalayan Trust UK in Nepal?

We have worked in many areas over the years and we focus on:

  • Education – training of teachers and Headteachers, building of schools, introduction of a more child-centred learning style to improve attendance and exam pass rate.
  • Health – support for health clinics, health education, particularly focusing on maternal and child health, providing scholarships and the rebuild of a health post with birthing centre.
  • Community projects – such as water projects and forest rebuilding.
  • Disaster support – the 2011 and 2015 earthquakes, the 2014 Everest avalanche, the 2016 Taplejung forest fire.

On 8 June 2017 you will organise the 9th Sir Edmund Hillary Memorial Lecture in London, how did this evening come about?

Sir Edmund Hillary – or ‘Ed’ as he was universally known – passed away on 11 January 2008. In the UK, as elsewhere in the world, people paid tribute at an extraordinarily moving ceremony on 2 April 2008, attended by H.R.H. Queen Elizabeth and other members of the Royal Family. The following day, The Himalayan Trust UK organised a special tribute at the Royal Geographical Society in London. Sir Ed’s son, Peter Hillary, spoke on ‘Growing up with Ed’. Tenzing Norgay’s son, Jamling Norgay, spoke on behalf of the Sherpa community. And there was a showing of Michael Dillon’s prize-winning film Beyond Everest, about Sir Ed’s philanthropic work with the Sherpas of Nepal. The auditorium was packed to the rafters and overflowing.

So moved were the loyal supporters and Trustees of The Himalayan Trust UK, that a decision was made to launch a series of Sir Edmund Hillary Memorial Lectures that would take place annually on the day of his ascent of Everest, 29 May, or as close to this day as possible, at the Royal Geographical Society.

What are your best memories from past years’ Edmund Hillary Memorial Lectures?

We have been lucky enough to have had some amazing speakers. These included Alan Hinkes OBE, Stephen Venables, Dr Mike Gill, Jan Morris, Leo Houlding, Prof David Vaughan, Dr Hugh Lewis-Jones, Doug Scott CBE and Sir Chris Bonington, our President. It is so hard to choose a favourite as they have all been excellent for different reasons, but it was fantastic to have Peter Hillary and Jamling Tenzing both speaking at the Royal Geographical Society in aid of the Himalayan Trust on that very first Lecture.

What can people expect for the upcoming Lecture on 8 June?

In 2013, for the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of Everest, we had a series of speaking events and Kenton Cool came to give one of these talks to a packed theatre of school kids – he was fantastic, and we resolved then to ask him to present at a Memorial Lecture some day. Kenton is in great demand so we were so pleased when he accepted to be the speaker this year.

Kenton has summited Everest twelve times and is currently out there again! He is an engaging motivational speaker, who delivers popular keynote speeches on all aspects of his many accomplishments in the outdoors. He relates with great vividness and emotion the experience of summiting some of the world’s highest mountains. Kenton has enough material for that as he is the first person in history to have climbed the three Everest peaks, the so-called Triple Crown, in a single push – a feat previously thought impossible.

The Trust will also use this opportunity to give attendants an insight into its valuable work, captured in a short film. It will show the work done in our education, health and “Build Back Better” projects.

Does the Himalayan Trust UK organise any other events throughout the year?

So far, the Edmund Hillary Memorial Lectures have been our main fundraising event. At the same time, the Trustees get involved with speaking opportunities, either organised by themselves or events they have been invited to. Keep an eye out on our website for an overview of these other events. One of our Trustees also organises charity and volunteering treks and we are in the process of organising a fundraising dinner with Sir Christian Bonington this year – do follow us!

Opening of school in Nepal by Himalayan Trust UKSchool's open again! ©Himalayan Trust UK

Finally, if people wish to donate funds, where can they go?

The easiest is to donate via the Himalayan Trust UK page on JustGiving. Alternatively, people can send their cash or a cheque (payable to Himalayan Trust UK) to the Hon. Treasurer of the Trust in Chandlers Ford, UK. We are a registered charity, so donating under the Gift Aid Scheme will benefit the Trust further. You can contact the Himalayan Trust UK for the relevant forms and more details.

Join the 9th Sir Edmund Hillary Memorial Lecture

Where: Royal Geographical Society, London

When: 8 June 2017

What: Kenton Cool speaks ‘Cool Man’s Everest’ and an insight in the Himalayan Trust UK’s Build Back Better project

How: get your tickets via World Expeditions


Himalayas, Nepal, On The Couch

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