As a lifelong distance running fan, the African continent has always held a particular appeal for Rob and he is fortunate to have spent a lot of time in East Africa, partly for broadcasting and partly for Youth Work.
It all started in 2003 when Rob was sent to Ethiopia and Kenya to make the BBC Four documentary “Track Wars,” charting the rivalry between the two distance running nations in the lead up to the Paris World Athletics Championships in the summer.
After interviewing and running with a number of stars including Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie and Kenya’s Paul Tergat, Rob fell in love with the landscapes, culture, energy and positivity of the people and vowed to go back in a non broadcasting capacity.
By coincidence in the autumn of 2002 with the help of some close friends, Rob had set up an annual one off Exeter University reunion disco night called “The London Lemmy.” It started life at the Battersea Arts Centre in Clapham but with a huge unexpected turnout of 1,000 former students, from 2003 the event was moved to it’s long term home at the Shepherds Bush Empire where the turn out regularly exceeded 1,250. It was never designed as a money making exercise, but with a £10 entry fee per person, by 2005 there was a surplus of almost £20k in a kitty.
Technically the money was Rob’s as it was his cash every year which paid all the deposits and insurance etc, but after reimbursing himself costs Rob did not feel inclined to keep the leftover money.
Instead he decided to put that £20k to a better use by using it to take a group of teenagers from across Britain on a fully funded 2 week overland camping and volunteering tour of Kenya and Uganda.
Rob felt strongly the opportunity should go to young people who did not perhaps have the benefit of a stable family upbringing or the chance to go to university as he and his friends did. So after using the Princes Trust to help source the right kind of young people, the first trip took place in the autumn of 2005.
It’s a camping road trip where the group take it in turns to cook and volunteer in local schools and orphanages along the way. The tour always finishes with an overnight game reserve stay with beers round a camp fire.
It is not a trip which pretends to wave a magic wand over the lives of those who go, but it is definitely an eye opener and a source of inspiration for the majority.
For some it’s a break from an issue at home, for others it’s a kick up the bum regarding previously wasted opportunities and for others it’s a just a opportunity they deserve but wouldn’t otherwise have.
Initially designed to be a one off in 2005, Rob managed to find the money to keep it going on a regular basis, along with huge help from a brilliant charity called The Little Society in York where the project is now based.
Through this initiative Rob has now led 8 fully funded trips and with finance secured for a 9th, by the end of 2019 Rob will have ensured more than 50 teenagers have benefited from an idea which started in 2003.
If life as a broadcaster hadn’t worked out, Rob would have been a primary school teacher and he derives as much satisfaction from working with young people on this trip as he does his career in TV.