We've got a (another) mountain to climb - well three, actually
Our goal was simple but daunting. The English UK team, still in shock from the unexpected death of our charismatic chief executive Eddie Byers, wanted to raise as much money as possible to create a charitable fund in his name.
We had to do something dramatic to get £15,000 in a few months, so when an English UK Three Peaks Challenge was suggested (climbing the three highest mountains in the UK in just 24 hours) most of us signed up, despite varying ages and fitness levels.
In one mad weekend, we learned so much about ourselves, we walked 26 miles, climbed 2,926 metres and drove around 462 miles between teatime on the Friday and bedtime on the Saturday. Best of all, we beat our financial target.
So far, we’ve helped over 250 refugees and asylum-seekers in the UK to improve their English enough to participate in everyday life. We will shortly announce our 2018 recipients (Story update! See our second story to learn how we are helping to transform the lives of Tanzanian and Palestinian school children.).
Now we’re pulling our boots on again, for another Three Peaks Challenge to raise money for the Eddie Byers Fund. On Saturday 20 October, around 12 members of the English UK team will be racing against the clock to scale Yorkshire’s highest peaks in under 12 hours. Again, our goal is to raise £15,000 to help more people transform their lives through learning English.
Our Miracle Fruit
Eddie would have laughed his head off at the thought of us tramping up and down Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon in 24 hours, with the odd hour of sleep snatched on a minibus, and eating a mountain of home-made cakes to keep us fueled up.
Extreme exercise wasn’t really Eddie’s thing, although he was passionate about the Scottish countryside and spent a lot of time in his boat off St Andrews.
We were keen to succeed for him, and for the people his fund was going to help.
So during the summer of 2016, we prepared in our own different ways, stepping up gym visits, walking to work, and getting out for long country walks.
Planning was meticulous. Jodie Gray, English UK’s director of strategic development, was liaising with our mountain guide and relaying stern messages about high-calorie snacks, bivvy bags, walking poles and waterproofs. Walkers arrived armed with home-made goodies.
Seventeen people took part, with some doing all three peaks, a couple doing two, and a group travelling from London for the final mountain.
But perhaps the most important members of the team were the BusyBus drivers who used every (legal) trick in the book to get us between Scotland, England and Wales in the shortest possible time, and a marvellous mountain leader who problem-solved everything from dodgy knees to a party of stoned strangers who needed a bit of help to stay safe on Snowdon.
How did it go?
We started our challenge on Ben Nevis, accompanied by Sam Byers, Eddie's widow, and her friend. The mood was boosted half-way up when a sudden burst of phone signal told us that we'd hit our £15,000 target. We cheered all our generous sponsors and trudged on.
In swirling mist and semi-darkness on the summit, Sam produced a bottle of Glenmorangie and a set of plastic glasses from her backpack to toast Eddie, adding: "I've brought him with me." Out came the photograph she was carrying. It was an emotional moment.
It was downhill from there, in every sense: slippery paths and an unexpected knee injury meant it was after midnight by the time we got back to the minibus and our guide explained that we'd lost so much time that we would have trouble completing the challenge at all, let alone in 24 hours. It would only be possible if we could complete Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, in just four hours.
We'd lost so much time that we would have trouble completing the challenge at all, let alone in 24 hours.
We were determined to try. At 8am, after a night on the road and little sleep, seven of us stomped up Scafell Pike, acutely aware that the whole challenge now depended on them. We walked as the sun rose, with astonishing views and plenty of support from other walkers who spotted our team t-shirts.
Four and a quarter hours later, elated, we were back at the minibus with enough time to do Snowdon. There was a party atmosphere when we met up with our colleagues, fresh off the London train and with fresh legs, and we set off up our final mountain under a stunning full moon, stopping our challenge clock on the summit at 28 hours and 55 minutes.
After a moonlit scramble back down the mountain, we toasted Eddie’s memory once more before finally falling into our beds.
Charitable contributions across the UK
The end of the story was even more inspiring.
Fun though the challenge was, the point was the people the Eddie Byers Fund was going to help. We didn’t know who they were yet, but Eddie was passionate about the power of education to transform lives.
In 2017 we made our first round of awards to four great charities working with refugees and asylum seekers:
- RefuAid, in London, helped refugees get the high-level English qualification they needed to work and study in the UK.
- Asylum Link in Liverpool helped their students make better progress and professionalised their volunteer teachers with new equipment and targeted curriculum provision.
- Oasis in Ipswich spent their grant to increase the number of classes and meet local need, with several learners getting jobs after an advanced Ready to Work course.
- Bristol Refugee Rights used its grant to fund a specific project to support reading skills, including a crèche to allow people to attend, and to buy reading material.
In all, those four awards of £2,500 each have helped around 350 people, who are now functioning much better in their new lives in the UK.
The £15,000 we raised helped 350 people.
Asylum Link student Mamoud, a Syrian refugee, said: "English class is my only future. I cannot understand anything unless I have my English. I need to start my life again. I study very hard."
In Ipswich, Fei got a job in McDonalds after attending a work-readiness course. She said: “Your school has given me the confidence to apply.”
Mohammed, a 19-year-old from Algeria, had no English at all, but after attending one course could join a pre-entry course at the local college. He said the Oasis course had helped him begin the long journey to integration, adding: “I was lost... but now I have some chance.”
Raising more funds for charity in 2018
This year we hope to raise a further £15,000 to support even more life-changing projects over the coming years, so are calling on all our members, partners, friends, family and colleagues to help us reach our goal.
Could you help us raise more money to transform lives?
Find out if we managed to scale Yorkshire's Three Peaks and discover how much we've raised thus far... read our follow-up Miracle Fruit Story.