A Castle and a Conscience

Sweden’s Team Tidö Race4Health has entered three Porsche 911s on this year’s East African Safari Classic Rally. The lead car features the one and only Stig Blomqvist, with the other two driven by Race4Health patron, Roger Samuelsson, and a new man: Trey Lockey, from Miami. Asked to write some driver bios for the Safari Rally souvenir programme, I put in a call to Team Tidö chief, David von Schinkel (above), to learn about the first non-Swede in a Team Tidö car.

David is a passionate racer who founded Team Tidö in 2008 to race in Formula Renault Scandinavia and the Swedish Touring Car Championship. The team later moved into historic motorsport, running several historic 911s in the Copenhagen Historic Grand Prix, on the Midnight Sun Rally and on the Safari.

Blomqvist won the Safari Classic Rally in Race4Health colours back in 2015, and Björn Waldegård also drove for the team on several occasions, including on the 2013 Safari Rally. Björn rolled his car that year, but it was later reshelled at Tuthills. Now part of Team Tidö’s car and motorcycle collection, the crumpled shell hangs at Tidö Slott: David’s family castle.

Viking Siege Mentality

I’ve done a fair few miles on road trips in Sweden. My uncle (another writer) read English at Trinity College, where he met a Swedish girl. She took him home to Stockholm, they got married and had kids. My dad never needed much excuse for a road trip, so visiting his Swedish relations in Stockholm was perfect. That’s how we spent one excellent summer touring through Finland and Sweden, to the Arctic Circle and back.

One thing you soon learn when driving through Sweden is that the country is not short of castles. This came from bitter experience: the Vikings loved a siege and even held Paris under siege for a year. You were nowhere in Sweden if you weren’t within reach of a fortress, so there are hundreds of castles, chateaux and palaces across the country. Known collectively as Slott (castle), many are still private residences. Tidö Slott falls into this group.

Photo by Anders P [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Swedish Castles: Tidö Slott

Tidö Slott is one of Sweden’s best-preserved castles from its age of high empire, spanning 1610 to 1720. Axel Oxenstierna – King Gustaf II Adolf’s Lord High Chancellor and widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in Swedish history – built the castle between 1625 and 1641, with the help of architects, Simon de la Vallée and Nicodemus Tessin.

Paris-born de la Vallée (whose father was architect to Louis XIII) was brought to Sweden by the head of the army and appointed Royal Architect. Tidö Slott was one of his first works in Sweden, and Stockholm palaces followed. Tessin the Elder was another regal favourite, whose most famous work is the Drottningholm Palace: still home to the Swedish royal family.

Tidö Slott was built in a Dutch Renaissance style. A huge four-wing complex set around a central courtyard, the castle was owned by Oxenstierna’s descendants for two hundred years, until they sold it in 1840. The next fifty years were a time of decline, until Carl-David von Schinkel acquired the castle in 1890. Four generations of the von Schinkel family have since grown up in Tidö Slott. The castle was private until 1971, when it was opened to the public. Today, it serves as a home, conference centre and meeting place.

Inheriting a castle – becoming its custodian for a time – must be an incredible privilege, but it also brings with it a potentially crushing responsibility. My own house was built in the late 1800s and would fit into Tido Slott many times over. I know how much work my little house takes to maintain, so to manage the burden of an inherited estate, and then extend one’s responsibility to changing the lives of the less fortunate in distant countries is incredibly worthy. If one accepts some of the data available, that sort of extension is a rare thing in Sweden.

Sweden in the Global Giving Index

A 2010 study by the Charities Aid Foundation covered almost 200,000 people in 153 countries. The survey included questions on personal charitable donations, volunteering and helping strangers: how much of each were people doing? The answers were averaged and each country was given a score, ranking the nation’s ‘charitability’ in the World Giving Index.

Australia topped the list, with 70% of Australians giving to charity, 38% volunteering for an organisation in the previous month and 64% helping a stranger in the same timeframe. New Zealand (68/41/63) and Ireland (72/35/60) followed Australia. Sweden (52/12/47) was in the low 40s, placing it behind Chile, Somalia and Afghanistan in the list of giving nations. Several European countries ranked lower, but, across Scandinavia, Sweden was lowest.

I found this data at odds with my perceptions of Sweden and my experience of Swedish philanthropy. To me, the nation represents the pinnacle of social conscience. Sweden ranks first in the world for press freedom, fourth for democracy and lack of corruption and tenth for global peace and global competitiveness. Sweden also ranks twelfth in the world for Human Development: a combined index of life expectancy, education and per capita income.

The importance of a good education is ingrained in Swedish consciousness and the power of education to drive national progress underpins Team Tidö’s charitable programme.

“If you can’t see, you can’t go to school”

“If you can’t see, you can’t read. If you can’t read, then you can’t go to school,” says David, who was inspired to develop a charitable arm to Team Tidö Race4Health through conversations with the late Björn Waldegård. Hailed as a sporting legend in Africa, the serial Safari winner had limitless compassion. Long term co-driver, Hans Thorzelius, remembers how Björn would save clothes and shoes from his kids and hand them out in Africa: he wanted people to see that he knew, and that he cared.

The most used greeting amongst Zulus is sawubona, meaning “I see you, you are important to me and I value you.” It is a deep and spiritual blessing, bestowed upon people one cares about. It voices respect for each other as individuals, with all our unique scars and flaws. Race4Health embraces this spirit with its eyewear redistribution programme.

Overseen by opticians from Balsta Optik, who travel with the rally as part of the team, the eyewear distribution scheme collects thousands of pairs of donated spectacles in Sweden and redistributes them to people in remote communities along the rally route. Team Tidö Race4Health established this project in 2013 and has since restored clear vision to hundreds of people with impaired sight in Kenya and Tanzania.

While I was on the phone to David yesterday, he sent me a link to a story in the Economist, discussing a recent World Health Organisation report estimating that, globally, at least 2.2 billion people have impaired vision. Some one billion people have an eyesight problem that is either preventable (e.g transmitted due to infection) or that could be addressed with spectacles. While David does not imagine that the programme will ever distribute a billion pairs of spectacles, he has seen with his own eyes that every person helped lifts the rest of society.

Anders and Ann-Marie Århlin are the opticians who travel with Tidö in Africa. Their first trip to the rally was in 2015, and they’ve been coming back ever since. “We don’t have a special group who we target,” says Ann-Marie. “We try to distribute to as many people as possible in the villages we visit. It is often quite chaotic as they don’t really have the same understanding of queuing that we do, but it usually goes well.

“What is most satisfying about our work with Race4Health is seeing how the help gets directly to those who need it. I have been to many African countries before and seen how aid organisations can suffer with problems due to bureaucracy or other hindrances. Direct help in situ is the best option: we immediately see the difference it makes to the people.”

Race4Change: Race4Health

Team Tidö Race4Health’s projects in Africa follow in the tyre tracks of Race4Change: an organisation led by the Canadian-American, Dr Steven Funk, who I worked with on a Safari Rally campaign in 2011. Funk’s work put microfinance at its centre, offering a hand up to budding entrepreneurs and giving them “skin in the game”. As an economic migrant once upon a time, Funk’s pitch had profound resonation with me. Race4Health takes a different approach, but the end result may be even more powerful.

Having spoken to Anders and Ann-Marie and seen the difference their work makes in person, I find the whole story incredibly powerful. Team Tidö Race4Health returns to Safari next month and, while all eyes may be focused on Blomqvist out front, the real value of Race4Health’s African vision will be happening way off the leader board: out in the bush, right where it’s needed.


Ferdinand blogs my freelance adventure with Porsche at the centre. To support my blog or to engage with me in other ways, you can:

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