A Guardian/ITV News undercover investigation raises concerns about Gavin Woodhouse, who is behind project endorsed by Bear Grylls
A new 200m outdoor adventure park, which is being launched with the support of the celebrity adventurer Bear Grylls, is being fronted by a financier who has raised millions of pounds from private investors and whose businesses have a multimillion-pound black hole.
The Afan Valley Adventure Resort in south Wales was granted outline planning permission by Neath Port Talbot council in March and has signed up the former SAS soldier and television presenter to base his instructor academy at the site. The project is trying to raise up to 40m from small private investors.
However, the schemes developer, Northern Powerhouse Developments (NPD), is owned and run by Gavin Woodhouse, a businessman who previously attracted tens of millions of pounds from small private investors in order to build care homes and acquire a hotel portfolio. Despite raising about 16m five years ago to build four new care homes, none are operational and three have not been built, an undercover investigation by the Guardian and ITV News has established.
Woodhouse is now struggling to pay scheduled dividends and some investors, who were expecting total investment profits of 125%, have complained that he has repeatedly failed to provide proof that their funds have been safeguarded. A retired NHS surgeon, Vijay Devadoss, who put 450,000 into one of the care home schemes in 2015, told the Guardian and ITV News that he is yet to receive a payment from Woodhouse and is devastated to have made the investment.
The Guardian and ITV News investigation, which included an undercover journalist posing as a potential Afan Valley investor, plus interviews with dozens of company insiders and investors, further shows:
Millions of pounds of care home investors money, that should have been ringfenced, was transferred to a consulting company 60% owned by Woodhouse and now appears to have disappeared.
The same consulting company collapsed into administration last year. The administrators report says the businesss current directors blamed the collapse on a 1.2m loan made to a former director. Woodhouse is the companys only former director.
Care home investors have been persistently misinformed about the progress of the care home projects.
Meanwhile, on Afan Valley, where the partnership with Grylls is being used to sell investments in Woodhouses latest project:
There is confusion about the status of the resorts announced partnerships with the carmaker Jaguar Land Rover, technology group YouTube and the outdoor specialist Go Ape, being promoted as offering future attractions on the site. All three companies say they have no deal with Afan Valley.
Woodhouse said he has not misled planning officials or Afan Valley investors about his business record and added that he has documentary evidence (including signed heads of terms) for the Afan Valley project which clearly show that it would be false to allege that [he] was claiming that the Afan Valley project had partners when it did not. Investment returns are not yet due to Afan Valley investors and there is no suggestion that any of them have not been paid.
He added that his backers on the care home projects had received false information on the status of the unbuilt facilities because he himself had been misled and that he still planned to build the homes.
He disputes the administrators report, which suggests that he owes 1.2m to his insolvent consulting company.
When meeting the undercover reporter, Woodhouse said he had raised 46m from individuals during 2017 and 2018, and that he is currently attempting to attract as much as 40m from the same group to start work on the 200m Afan Valley project.
The fundraising efforts are backed by slick marketing presentations including a short video featuring Grylls, who received an OBE in the Queens birthday honours.
In the film the television star states: Check out our latest Bear Grylls survival academy and our centre of excellence at the Afan Valley adventure resort Weve got our instructor academy based there and the whole place is geared for fun, for adventure and learning new skills.
Meanwhile Peter Moore, who helped launch Center Parcs in the UK and is working for Woodhouse, has described the adventure park plans as breathtaking, while Woodhouse portrays himself as a successful financier with a hugely respected reputation within the investment finance sector [who has] helped turn countless financial aspirations into realities.
However, potential investors are not told about Woodhouses business track record.
Millions of pounds are owed to the care home projects by a company called MBI Consulting (UK) Ltd, in which Woodhouse owns 60% of the shares and which slumped into administration last year, according to publicly available insolvency documents. The company collapsed with only 988 in the bank and it is not clear where the care home funds it owes are now.
Having analysed the information in the MBI Consulting (UK) administrators report, Richard Kleiner, managing partner of City accounting firm Gerald Edelman, said: There are up to 15m of unaccounted for funds that apparently were at some point transacted through this company and which were not there when it went into administration.
There is a huge deterioration and clearly the question is: what happened to that money? Where did it go? Why is it no longer there? We are talking about up to 15m, which is a large amount of money.
A company insider, speaking on the condition of anonymity, alleged: There was a considerable amount of money raised [by Woodhouse]. Nobody seemed to know where it had gone. There were projects that were being sold that were funding previous projects. There just appeared to be a black hole.
Woodhouse added that, while he was the majority 60% shareholder of MBI Consulting (UK), he had no management control after resigning as a director in January 2016 and that the business was successful when he stepped down from the board. He said MBI Consulting has since been run by his partner, Robin Forster, who owned 30%.
Neither Woodhouse or Forster explained what had happened to the millions of pounds loaned into their company. Woodhouse added that he has not been told why certain transactions were made and this matter is in the hands of [his] solicitor. Forster said there is no truth in Woodhouses interpretation of events, that he refutes all allegations and suggestions of wrongdoing.
A spokesman for the administrator, FRP, said: The administrators continue to work constructively with MBIs stakeholders to secure the best outcome for all creditors. This includes potential litigation against various parties which, it is hoped, will lead to recoveries for the companys creditors. These matters are ongoing and solicitors are instructed to advise and act on behalf of the administrators. As such, public disclosure of any specific details at this early stage may prejudice these actions and in turn impact on the prospects of a recovery for the benefit of the creditors.
Having left care home investors with the impression that their money was being safeguarded by a firm of solicitors, Woodhouse now says investors funds are elsewhere in bank accounts, which are separate and allocated to each SPV [special project vehicle].
The Bear Grylls Survival Academy, which is thought to be receiving 180,000 a year from Woodhouse for its involvement, declined to comment on the relationship, as did the adventurer himself. There is no suggestion that Grylls was aware of the details relating to Woodhouses businesses.
Jaguar Land Rover, YouTube and Go Ape, which have all been cited as Afan Valley project partners in planning submissions made by NPD, said they had not signed deals. A spokesman for JLR said talks had taken place but added: Land Rover gets many approaches of this nature from interested third parties NPD/[Afan Valley] are not Land Rover Experience franchise partners.
Go Ape has said it is interested in the Afan project but has not agreed terms and nothing has been signed.
Northern Powerhouse Developments denies any wrongdoing. Here is its complete response.