HERE’S a man who claims to have helped 500,000 vulnerable children who have suffered terrible abuse.
This is how he did it… Andrew Lownsbrough runs Vardis, a publishing company based in Ormskirk, Lancs.
His call centre staff cold-call businesses around the country, asking them if they want to advertise in its charity booklet for the Foresters’ Fund For Children.
The Foresters’ Fund gets a cut so everybody’s happy.
Er, no, not exactly. Rupinder Lotay was asked to pay £347 for an advert for his East London bridal hire firm but was told that he’d have to wait two months to see a copy.
He refused to pay – like Chris Naylor, who runs a catering business in Ilkley, Yorks.
Chris was sent a proof of his advert but it was an exact copy of one he’d already placed in another magazine. “I believe that I’m being asked to pay for an advert in a booklet that doesn’t exist,” he said.
Vardis claims it distributes 15,000 copies of its booklets but just 12 per cent of the money raised goes to the Fund.
The fundraisers also insist the charity has seen a “significant increase in its turnover” during their six-year collaboration.
Which is strange, because the fund’s gross income in 1999/2000 was £85,361 and it has dropped steadily ever since to just £32,000 in 2005/2006.
The charity says that it helped 285,000 distressed and disturbed children last year by awarding grants to chosen projects – which works out at 17p per youngster.
Last year, Vardis teamed up with the Laura Crane Trust, a charity that supports cancer research and teenage cancer victims.
Jacquie Roeder, whose daughter Laura died from the disease, agreed to an 80/20 split on fundraising – in favour of Vardis. But the complaints from advertisers were soon flooding in.
“We are very sad that people who wanted to help our charity have got caught up in something so awful,” Jacquie told us.
“We saw some of the wall-planners and there were no contact details for the advertisers. They were effectively useless.” Advertisers who refused to pay were chased by something called Crown Debt Recovery, using a consumer credit licence issued to Andrew Lownsbrough.
The Laura Crane Trust broke its contract with Vardis in September, after getting £3,520. The charity has no idea how much Vardis pocketed.
There has also been a previous incarnation of this sham. Vardis GB Ltd went into liquidation in 2003 owing £69,000.
The current version coincidentally operates out of offices that were previously used by the notorious Barrington House Publishing Corporation. That lot was shut down by the courts after raising £3.5million for wall-planners for sick kids. Just 5p in every £1 went to charity.
Lownsbrough, 37, wasn’t there when we called, so we waited for him at his home two miles away.
But when he arrived in his new £80,000 BMW M5 he wouldn’t answer our questions.
If you want to donate to the Laura Crane Trust, please visit its website lauracranetrust.org or call 0148 451 0013.
If you want to donate to Andrew Lownsbrough, you need your head examined.