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Phil Liggett is quite rightly referred to as the “Voice of Cycling.”  He has commentated on 51 Tour de Frances, 16 Olympic Games and every other cycling event thereafter, his voice becoming synonymous with the sport.  However, there is another side to Phil.  Over the years, he and his wife, Patricia (Trish) have both been, and continue to be, central to the success of charities such as Helping Rhinos, the Kariega Foundation Trust, Koala Life, the Paul Sherwen Project, and the Hertfordshire Zoo, and can be considered to be philanthropists. 

I had the unique opportunity to spend time with Phil and Trish to understand how important their charity work is and how their efforts are significantly enhancing the lives of the communities in their adopted second home – South Africa.  

South Africa

Phil and Trish have long been frequent visitors to South Africa.  Phil was invited to commentate by South African television on a major cycling event and whilst there, both he and Trish fell in love with the wildlife of Africa and became embroiled in their protection. Birds have always been his first love and Phil has been a patron of Birdlife SA’s cycling arm, appropriately called “Fast and Featherless” for the past 20 years. 

In 2003 they acquired an 11-hectare plot in the “Grietjie Private Nature Reserve.” This small reserve now forms part of the Greater Kruger National Park.  All internal fences have been removed and Grietjie is now a magnificent sanctuary for wildlife.  Neighbouring reserves removed their fences, expanding the area to a massive 55 thousand hectares, with the 12 regions known as “Balule Nature Reserve.”   The fenceless land allows animals the freedom to roam, and can wander into three nearby countries, plus South Africa’s vast Kruger Park. Lions, elephants, monkeys, rhinos and others are frequent visitors to their small lodge called Kiboko Khama, or Hippo Place, which overlooks the Olifants river, where crocodiles bask meters from their home.  This is as wild as it comes and a long way from Birkenhead, on the Wirral Peninsula, where Phil raced his bike.

Helping Rhinos

Whilst living in the Greater Kruger National Park, the plight of the rhinos became clear to Phil and Trish where poaching has been endemic.  The rhinos are being hunted and killed for their horns which have been used in traditional Chinese Medicine, as well as becoming increasingly common as a status symbol to display wealth. 

As a consequence of habitat loss and poaching, the black rhino is now classed as “Critically Endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).  There are only an estimated 6500 left in the wild.  The southern white rhino is fairing only marginally better with only an estimated 15,000 left in the wild.  The northern white rhino is considered extinct in the wild having been formerly found in several countries in East and Central Africa, south of the Sahara.

With two rhinos poached, one fatally, near their property, Phil and Trish felt compelled to take a stand.  Since then, they have been actively involved with the charity  Phil is a patron and Trish was a founding Board Member and served as a trustee from 2012-2019, and is now an ambassador.  The aim of this British based NGO is “to help the species survive at sustainable levels in their natural habitat” and this is achieved through undertaking “projects that deliver tangible results in protecting the world’s remaining rhino.”

One such project was the establishment of a mobile vet unit which is based at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya that assists with the treatment of wildlife, including the rhino and other endangered species.

Freedom to Roam Adventures and the Kariega Foundation

Wanting people to experience Africa and nature in a way that they have been fortunate enough to, Trish came up with an idea and created “Freedom to Road Adventures.” It is a fund-raising organization where Trish explained the concept as “We give to get.  Everyone who joins a Freedom to Roam Adventure sees first-hand, the very area that we are helping, and a donation to the cause is factored into every entry.”

Using Phil’s unique popularity as a commentator, with a vast following, they has made them able to offer cycle tours. Effectively, the bicycle has become a vehicle for Phil and Trish to share their love of nature and play an active role in its protection and preservation. 

These trips take place specifically in the Kariega Game Reserve in South Africa and they have formed an exceptional partnership with the Kariega Foundation Trust, a non-profit organization connected to the Reserve.

The outcome of these shared goals is that funds generated via the Freedom to Roam Adventures have been invested directly back into a variety of projects that will enhance not just the wildlife and environment, but also funds which are apportioned to the local community, through their programmes such as the “Youth Development Programme,” which focuses on social emotional learningsport and environmental education for young people. 

This year, Phil and Trish are hosting three eco-tours in the Kariega Game Reserve.  One tour will provide the exclusive opportunity for a small number of guests (16) to undertake the unique and supervised ‘cycling safari,’ in the Kariega Game Reserve, which is not typically allowed.  However, this unique opportunity will provide the most intimate and memorable game viewing experience you can have, utilising specially-designed trails that include Liggetts’ Lookout and Liggetts’ Loop, allowing people to connect with nature firsthand, as Trish noted “you will experience the animals without the noise of vehicles.”

Freedom to Roam Adventures and Koala Life

In addition to work in South Africa, Australia is also close to their hearts. The horrific and devastating fires of 2019/20 decimated the koala population on Kangaroo Island, which was the home to the only disease-free koalas in South Australia.  Phil and Trish are both ambassadors to Koala Life, a charity designed to ensure their preservation, based at Cleland Wildlife Park, in the Adelaide Hills.  Cleland Wildlife Park housed the rescued babies after their parents had died in the fires. The Wildlife Park , where Koala Life is based, is playing key part in bringing this endangered species back from the brink and these young females are now forming the basis of a new population.  Many donations from companies Phil has worked for, has helped support Koala Life, which is a charity in its own right.

The Paul Sherwen Project

In December 2019, sadly and unexpectedly, Phil’s long-time friend and co-commentary of 33 years, passed away.  Consequently, the Paul Sherwen Project was established, which is a charity where Phil is the Chair of six-person board, that includes Paul’s widow, Katherine.

Photo provided by Graham Watson

The objective of the project is to support the good work that Paul was undertaking in his adopted homeland of Uganda and across East Africa.  The goal of the project is “empowering the Karamoja people to drive progress and economic development through education, job skills and personal training, while promoting and protecting the unique culture and environment of their communities.” 

It goes without saying that Phil has given his full support to the project which has seen the creation of the Matany Vocational School for Girls in the northeast region of Uganda. Karamoja is one of the poorest regions in Uganda, where 80% of the population live below the poverty line.  Two key buildings are the Paul Sherwen Block, which recognizes Paul, and situated next to the Paul Sherwen Block is Liggett Hall, which recognises Phil’s contribution.

The school’s mission is to “promote and empower young women up to 30 years of age through vocational skills and training for sustainable livelihoods.”  To achieve this mission the school offers courses that are designed to address specific skill gaps and provide those who attend a pathway to a better and rewarding life.  Specifically, the courses provide certificates in hospitality and tourism, hairdressing and beautification, catering and bakery and tailoring with training given from the buildings funded, largely by the Paul Sherwen Project.

In February, Phil and Trish visited the school to help dedicate the Paul Sherwen Block, having raised more than £250,000 for the project.  Phil was shocked when he was himself honoured by being invested into the Karamojan people’s community as an Elder.  He was presented with the tribal name of Lokiru, which means “light drizzle” (a name given to him because that day it had been raining) and he assumed a tribal hat and ostrich feather which is worn with the feather pointed upwards.

Summing up

The charity work that Phil and Trish undertake is considerable as is their energy and enthusiasm.  Their endeavors are global and their positive work felt on multiple continents.  However, it is also worth acknowledging that even close to home they support local wildlife initiatives as for many years Trish and Phil have been supporting their local  Hertfordshire Zoo

Phil and Trish are both at a time of their lives where most people would be slowing down, but they are not.  This is incredible and inspirational to witness and deserves admiration.  In fact, they are as busy now as they have ever been with their upcoming Freedom to Roam Adventure Tours to host, and Phil’s 52nd Tour de France and 17th Olympic Games on the horizon, their schedule over the new few months is looking particularly busy, but all full of rewarding endeavours.