WHEN Penelope Worsley’s son died in a road accident in 1996, she was determined to continue the pioneering work he had carried out when he was younger in remote Thai villages.

She set up an international charity, the Karen Hilltribes Trust, from her home at Heslington, York, to improve education, provide clean water supplies and safeguard the traditional skills of the Karen people in the mountainous forests of north-west Thailand.

Over 13 years, the charity has raised about £3 million and helped provide clean water to about 40,000 people in 400 villages across 10,000 square miles. It has also ensured about 1,000 children a year have received an education and helped local people bring land back into crop production.

Now Penelope, who celebrated her 70th birthday last year, has handed over to a new director, William Harnden, 26, saying she had always intended to relinquish control by the time she was 70.

However, she will remain a trustee of the charity, now based in Fulford, and continue to give talks about its work to people all over Yorkshire.

She said she was delighted to have handed control over to a young man, so close in age to her son, Richard, who died aged 24.

She thanked everyone who had made donations, saying every payment, no matter how small, had helped make a difference in the hill people’s lives.

William who will be the charity’s first paid director was first involved in the charity when he was a 19-year-old student at Cambridge and had gone out to Thailand for three weeks as a volunteer.

He later worked abroad for major organisations such as the United Nations, but had always been impressed by how the trust empowered local people to play a major role in local projects.

He said his initial tasks this year would be consolidation, ensuring that the charity continued to raise £400,000 a year, and to encourage more volunteers to come forward and raise the charity’s profile.

He would also go out with Penelope to Thailand to visit as many of its projects as possible, and travel to Hong Kong to seek new donors.

He had intended to lead a team of ten runners in a half marathon at Bishop Wilton on July 20 until he ruptured an achilles tendon while in training.

• To support the charity or volunteer email william.harnden@karenhilltribes.org.uk or phone 01904 612829.