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Outward Bound in first charity abseil down Empire State Building

Stepping off the top of the Empire State Building with New York far below.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MAY 06: <> on May 06, 2024 in New York, New York. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Outward Bound)

The first ever charity abseil down the Empire State Building in New York took place this week to raise funds for UK charity Outward Bound.

Twenty of the charity’s supporters took part in the descent, together with celebrity participant Jared Leto. Total donations from The Big Rappel already exceed £2.4 million, and will be divided between Outward Bound in the UK and other Outward Bound partners around the world.

HRH Princess Beatrice in front of a large image of the Empire State Building.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MAY 06: Princess Beatrice of York attends the Empire State Building at The Empire State Building on May 06, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Empire State Realty Trust)

Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrice, an Outward Bound Trustee, was present for the event. She said:

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“Bringing young people out of their comfort zones and supporting them to achieve something they never thought possible is what Outward Bound is all about. I am so happy to offer my support as a Trustee and I am a great admirer of Outward Bound and all they stand for – these participants really are an inspiration.”

Anthony Edward Malkin rappels down the Empire State Building for Outward Bound
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MAY 06: Anthony Edward Malkin on May 06, 2024 in New York, New York. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Outward Bound)


The Big Rappel

Jared Leto began the event, which spanned nearly 900 feet from the building’s spire down to the 30th floor.

He had recently climbed up the fin of the Empire State Building to announce Thirty Seconds to Mars’ world tour. So now, he was “excited to head the opposite direction and rappel down to shine a light on the incredible work of Outward Bound.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK: In this image released on May 6, Jared Leto rappels down the Empire State Building in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Empire State Realty Trust)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK: In this image released on May 6, Jared Leto rappels down the Empire State Building in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Empire State Realty Trust)

He said: “I’ve always admired Outward Bound and how they inspire people around the globe to transform their lives through adventure, challenge, experience, and discovery.”

The view down the side of the Empire State Building as one abseiler descends.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MAY 06: <> at The Empire State Building on May 06, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Outward Bound)
Over the edge. An abseiler begins the descent from the Empire State Building with New York City below.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MAY 06: <> on May 06, 2024 in New York, New York. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Outward Bound)

Martin Davidson, Outward Bound CEO, said: “It is awesome to put on this event at the Empire State Building. Outward Bound has been supporting young people to push through and challenge themselves for the last 85 years, and the participants of the Big Rappel will be showing that appetite for adventure in abundance!

He added: “In the UK, Outward Bound inspires thousands of young people every year to achieve something they never thought possible by taking them from inner-city environments into our national parks where they experience the extraordinary and learn what they are truly capable of”.

Two abseilers in red at the top of the Empire State Building.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MAY 06: <> at The Empire State Building on May 06, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Outward Bound)
A woman in red suit and white hat starts abseiling down the Empire State Building. Below New York is shrouded in cloud.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MAY 06: <> on May 06, 2024 in New York, New York. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Outward Bound)

The story behind this monumental fundraising event

UK Fundraising spoke to Alan Bolchover, Director of Fundraising, Marketing and Communications, Outward Bound Trust, to find out how such a world-first took place.

At the beginning, it started with an ambitious idea and approach.

“The Empire State is the most famous building in the world”, says Alan. “No organisation has ever accomplished an abseil of this scale in New York.”

So Alan sent a LinkedIn message to the owner of the Empire State building.

“He told me to go away – but I persisted”. In all, it took nine years of persistence and then planning. Part of that was due to the disruption brought by COVID, but even without that it would have taken years of persistence.

Alan said: “The challenges have been huge. Events like this are not allowed in New York City so we had to convince the City, State, NYPD, FDNY, Buildings Dept – overcoming every objection”.

He praised the authorities at the Empire State Building for their support. “They have been an incredible partner” he said.

Keeping the whole idea secret for that period was therefore a significant achievement in itself. How do you plan a world-first event, invite people to take part, fundraise, and keep it secret?

The fundraising element therefore needed to be implemented on a need-to-know basis. Alan explained: “All participants are giving or raising money plus we are doing appeals internationally through coverage on Good Morning America and This Morning.”

Twelve people have walked on the moon. Nobody has ever rappelled the Empire State Building. Quote on The Big Rappel website
Image: The Big Rappel

To put the achievement in context, Outward Bound is not necessarily the first charity that you might imagine achieving this kind of event. As Alan says: “We are not a huge charity and are based in a village in Cumbria.

“But we have big, bold ambitions. We don’t have to be London based to inspire the world.”

The scale of the ambition for the event matches what the charity stands for and aims to achieve.

“Outward Bound stands for inspiring a generation through challenge and adventure. We want to grow and bring our vision to the world. This is the next step.”

Alan added: “This is what Outward Bound stands for. We want to bring our work to the world and will be seeking challenges no one has ever accomplished before. If you will it, it is no dream.”

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