Focus: Policy and Politics - MPs sign up for charity challenges

Nathalie Thomas

They will do tough trips, learn about charity and raise funds. A new organisation is persuading MPs to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and cross the Sahara Desert in an attempt to bridge the information gap between charities and politicians.

The Westminster Challenge is a voluntary group set up by young professionals to encourage politicians to learn more about individual charities' work and to raise money for good causes.

It hopes to do this by organising a series of fundraising challenges, the first of which is a dog sled trek across the Arctic. MPs who sign up will also follow a charity education programme, during which they meet representatives from the organisation's adopted charities and hear about what each one does.

"The point of the Westminster Challenge is that politicians learn more about charities, and vice versa," said Richard Stephenson, the group's founder. "Many politicians do a lot of charitable work, but there's more that can be done. A lot of charities and politicians need to understand more about each other."

Stephenson hopes the educational side of the challenge will motivate MPs to become parliamentary ambassadors for the organisations involved. He also hopes the interaction between charities and politicians will lead to a better understanding on both sides of the pressures each of them face. "There does seem to be an information gap at times," he said.

The expeditions work in the same way as normal charity challenge events, so MPs do all the fundraising themselves. The money raised is divided between three adopted charities and a fourth charity of the MP's choice from his or her constituency.

"Roughly two-thirds of the money will go to the three main charities, but the rest will be going to the local charities," Stephenson said.

The first events will benefit Cancer Research UK, Crimestoppers and the Children's Society.

Each year, Westminster Challenge will adopt three different charities.

So far the idea has received a warm response: five MPs have signed up for the first trek, including Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat MP for Sheffield Hallam, Tobias Ellwood, Conservative MP for Bournemouth East, and Emily Thornberry, Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury.

They will travel 400 kilometres across the Arctic Circle on sleds after setting out from Levi in Finland on 18 February next year.

"This is a fantastic opportunity and we are very excited about the trek," said Clegg. "We believe it is crucial that parliamentarians get behind charities and support the work they do."

The organisation is hoping to organise two events each year. Future expeditions are likely to include climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and crossing the Sahara, but Stephenson said the group was also looking at less strenuous challenges for Members of Parliament who have less time to commit to overseas trips.

KEY POINTS

- A new body, the Westminster Challenge, is seeking to bridge the information gap between politicians and charities

- The group is organising a series of fundraising challenges, in which MPs are invited to take part

- MPs who take part also follow a charity education programme

- The first event is a dog sled trek across the Arctic. Future challenges include climbing Kilimanjaro and crossing the Sahara.

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