Craft skills charity returns £11.2m over sex trafficking claims

New donors sought to help save dying heritage skills

New donors sought to help save dying heritage skills

A charity is looking for new donors to help save dying heritage craft skills after it handed back a multimillion-pound donation due to sex trafficking allegations made against its philanthropic benefactor.

English Heritage welcomed an £11.2 million donation in August from the foundation of British businessman and philanthropist Hamish Ogston (pictured). It was earmarked to go towards training and apprentice wage costs on its heritage skills programme.

However, a Sunday Times investigation alleged in September that Ogston had engaged in the sex trafficking and attempted trafficking of southeast Asian women and the procurement of class-A drugs over a period dating back 15 years. Scotland Yard is now reviewing the evidence.

A month later, English Heritage announced that it had severed ties with the Hamish Ogston Foundation given the “extremely serious nature of the allegations”. The Charity Commission has also opened a regulatory compliance case.

The charity said the £667,000 it had received so far would be handed back and that it would not draw down on any further funds committed by the foundation.

A spokesperson for English Heritage told FE Week that it was now “pursuing alternative funding avenues” to overcome this “setback” and fulfil its commitment to delivering its heritage skills programme.

English Heritage’s apprenticeship programme features courses in traditional skills including flint and stone masonry and heritage brickwork to help safeguard its properties. It also aims to fund a new heritage skills training centre in East Anglia and boost outreach across schools and the post-16 sector. 

Training sessions for 450 FE construction students are on offer to help with the preservation of 34 castles and abbeys in the East of England.

Upskilling in heritage crafts has been dwindling in England due to low demand and high training costs, causing training providers to pull out of delivering courses such as clockmaking, bookbinding and blacksmithing.

Nearly £29 million was committed in total by the Hamish Ogston Foundation to projects run by heritage organisations across the UK and overseas, including the Commonwealth Heritage Forum and Historic Environment Scotland. 

A spokesperson for Historic Environment Scotland (HES) told FE Week it had not drawn any of the £5.2 million committed from the foundation to date. The money would have funded its new Craft Your Career programme, launching 100 traineeships over five years to protect Scottish buildings.

“HES is assessing the information available relating to the Hamish Ogston Foundation in light of these serious allegations, as well as reviewing our legal and contractual obligations and talking to partners,” the spokesperson added.

Ogston, aged 75, made most of his fortune in 1980 when he founded credit card insurance firm Card Protection Plan (CPP). At one point he was worth an estimated £500 million. CPP was later embroiled in an insurance mis-selling scandal, as customers who had lost credit cards were already protected by their banks.

The Sunday Times investigation alleged that Ogston suggested using his charitable organisation as “some foil” to bring women into the country potentially as interns.

Ogston stepped down as chair of his foundation soon after the allegations were made and is no longer involved in the governance and running of the foundation, according to a statement on its website.

His daughter Isabella has also “retired” as a trustee and the foundation will continue with new leadership and a new name “in the next week or two”.

Since it was established in 2019, the Hamish Ogston Foundation has offered donations of more than £40 million to UK and Commonwealth initiatives. The foundation did not respond to requests for comment.

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