Sir Tom Hunter: Child poverty is a disgrace

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HE may be Scotland’s first home-grown billionaire, but Sir Tom Hunter is more concerned about how he can help others via his charitable foundation than counting his cash.

The 54-year-old, who made his fortune by building a chain of sportswear stores, has become one of the most recognisable philanthropists in the UK in recent years.

Sir Tom Hunter joins volunteers Marion Robinson, Moira Burke, Christopher Quinn, Izzy Conway and Lesley Sharp to launch Kiltwalk 2016. Picture: John Devlin

Sir Tom Hunter joins volunteers Marion Robinson, Moira Burke, Christopher Quinn, Izzy Conway and Lesley Sharp to launch Kiltwalk 2016. Picture: John Devlin

His Hunter Foundation has now agreed to underwrite the costs of the 2016 Kiltwalk, a series of sponsored walks talking place across Scotland, with the aim of raising more than £1.5 million for children’s charities across the country.

Helping the youngest and most vulnerable in society is something that Hunter cares passionately about.

“It’s a disgrace we’re still having to talk about child poverty in 2015,” he told The Scotsman. “And if we’re still talking about in another 10 years’ time I will have failed.

“But I’m only a small part. I can’t fix it myself.

It’s a disgrace we’re still having to talk about child poverty in 2015

Sir Tom Hunter

“Scotland can lead the world in becoming the first nation to eradicate child poverty; we can’t ignore it, we can change it so every child has the opportunity to be all they can be.”

Hunter, who made made £260 million after selling his Sports Division chain aged 37, credits his childhood in East Ayrshire as first opening his eyes to the importance of helping others.

“It goes back to growing up in New Cumnock,” he said. “My dad was the local grocer, and he was always saying to me: ‘this is our community, the people here make our living, we’ve got to give something back.’ He would arrange old folks’ parties and kids’ trips.

“It’s hard to believe these child poverty statistics. I don’t think there’s anyone in Scotland who could disagree on the need to eradicate child poverty - we might disagree on how to go about it.

Sir Tom Hunter and Miss Scotland Mhairi Fergusson at Hampden Park for the launch of Kiltwalk 2016. Picture: John Devlin

Sir Tom Hunter and Miss Scotland Mhairi Fergusson at Hampden Park for the launch of Kiltwalk 2016. Picture: John Devlin

“The ethos of the Hunter Foundation is: people need a wee hand up, not a hand out. We see things like the Kiltwalk, we want to make it as simple for anybody to sign up.”

Hunter hopes that the Kiltwalk will eventually become the largest mass-participation charity event north of the border.

The charity replaced its entire board of trustees in June following concerns over the amount of money it was giving to charitable causes.

“The people who started Kiltwalk did a terrific thing in our view, but they got a bit overambitious,” added Hunter.

“The event could have disappeared into the ether. We all agreed that as long as we made it to clear people that 100 per cent of the money raised went to charity, it wouldn’t take much to repair it. And that’s the Hunter Foundation guarantee.”

Sir Tom plans to take part in both the Glasgow and Edinburgh Kiltwalks next year.

“It’s so easy. It’s something all the family can get involved with. You can walk five or 10 miles, you can just be part of it,” he added. “I definitely couldn’t run it. Ewan, our chief executive, does ultra marathons - but I’ll just hobble round.”

Arnold Clark has also signed up as a major sponsor of the event.

Eddie Hawthorne, group managing director, said: “The Kiltwalk is a cause close to the heart of the Arnold Clark Group. The brilliant work done by the organisation is vital to the survival of so many crucial charities across Scotland.

“As a family business with a presence in many Scottish communities we understand the importance of supporting local, smaller charities. Many of our own employees take part in the Kiltwalk and as a group we are so proud to be able to offer our support.”

Kiltwalk has raised £2.4 million since 2011 and charities who have benefited include the Yorkhill Children’s Unit at the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow and Calum’s Cabin on Bute which gives respite to the families of terminally ill children.

The dates for The Kiltwalk 2016 are: April 24 (Glasgow), June 5 (Aberdeen), August 14 (Speyside) and September 18 (Edinburgh).

To register, visit the Kiltwalk website.