Interview: Ollie Mason – The Water Run

I met Ollie Mason the week before he began The Water Run, a thousand mile journey from John O’Groats to Land’s End carrying a twenty-litre bucket of water. He wants to raise awareness of water poverty in Africa and other countries, while the money raised will be split between four charities to go towards water sustainability projects.

What are you up to in London now?

All the logistics, planning the journey.

How have you planned the 1000 miles?

I started it the wrong way around: most people start at Land’s End and go to John O’Groats. But there is a huge swathe of Scotland where there will be no press, so I’m doing the hard bit first!

I’ve tried to stagger it so it goes fairly intensely, then drops, then goes instensely, then drops. I think the maximum amount of miles a day is 20. I’m a bit flexible. There are points where we’ll go off to an event, so I’ll leave a flag to show where I stopped and then go back to that.

How many days are you actually walking for?

I’m walking for fifty out of sixty days, but when I planned the route I made it a bit short, so on my days off I’ll have to do an extra ten miles, just a little walk, even though I’m not supposed to! I started training at the end of 201o, and I’d do a couple of miles, with a weighted rucksack. I’d carry much more than 20 litres, up to 50, 60 kilos.

I was a bit more naive when I started the project. I wanted to eat whatAfricans eat and wear what they wore, and I tried one day on their diet, and couldn’t do it. It would have killed me: the amount of carbs and protein you need when training is ridiculous.

What are the rules?

I can drink the water as I walk. We’re trying to work out a way of strategically drinking without stopping walking, like a straw. I’m also going to be having these protein drinks which fill your muscles with water. I will still be carrying it, and getting it topped up everyday.

It’s in one big container. One of the ways to hold it is to suspend it on a rope and wrap it around my arms. I’ve also got a banana bark headring, which you wrap and put on your head and it cushions your head. But the worst pain is holding your arm up. You can do it for a couple of minutes and then you have to swap: it’s a bit of a dance all the way.

How are you feeling about the weather?

*laughs* Weather’s hard; if it’s too hot it’s horrible, if it’s too cold, it’s horrible. If it rains it’s the worst. And I hate walking!

What drove me to it is my son. He’s not well, he can’t have kids, he’s got problems with his lungs. There’s nothing I can do about that, but 4500 kids die a day of the effects of poverty. And not of thirst but malnutrition, it all spreads upwards from the water. There are nearly a billion people in Africa who walk for water every day. 5km is the average, but that can be 2,3 times a day, so it can be 15km. Africa has the worst problems, in the subsaharan parts, which is crazy because you can get 4g signal: they’ve got better phone signal than us!

What’s the target for your fundraising?

A hundred grand! I’m not sure if I’ll make it. We’ve got a lot of response from the media and as I move down the country it will be in every paper, and hopefully that’ll raise awareness. Then we’re splitting it between the charities, and for every £25 000 we get, the government will match it. Oxfam are sponsoring in kind and also giving us a voucher code so that whenever someone buys stuff they’ll donate (the voucher code is ‘thewaterrun’).

Tell us about the kinds of projects happening with the money…

WaterAid are doing sustainable water projects in Malawi, because previously they had no responsibility over their projects. In Africa it isn’t just that they haven’t got clean water, but NGOs go, drill bore holes, build a well, and then don’t maintain them. So a child born drinking clean water will have to eventually switch to dirty water.

WaterAid are a kind of middleman, they gather the money and get the companies to build the wells, so there’s no responsibility. But they are improving. We’re building a school in Ghana with them, they want to put a pump outside so that when the parents drop their kids off at school they can get their water.

What about the events along your walk?

There are sixteen events. The London event is in Battersea Park: Music4Children are organising it, there’s gonna be a couple of bands outdoors at the gondola cafe, and then I’ll have a walk around the park so if anyone wants to follow me they can. Then we’re holding a charity football club called the Eco Club – there’s a registration page to take part on the website. We’re holding events in Chester, my home town, called the Big Giant Walk, with these 15ft tall models which will be walking along with me. That’s a pilot for this campaign.

What’s the next step?

We’re organising The Water Run in Australia, with a guy called Tom Lawrence. He’s trying to raise AU$250 000, carrying two buckets on a yoke.

Find your nearest event at http://www.thewaterrun.com or donate at www.thewaterrunproject.com.

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Chugging Days Are Over?

Street fundraising – more popularly known as ‘charity mugging’ and shortened to chugging – may be on the way out for good. An undercover reporter revealed that Tag Campaigns, a large chugging company in Britain, has broken strict rules about its practices, according to The Telegraph.

Oxfam is pulling out of a campaign worth £630,000 with them after this report. WWF is awaiting the outcome of an inquiry before deciding whether to continue working with the firm. The NSPCC has also stopped using them.

The Telegraph reported that:

“Following the revelations, the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB) – which investigates complaints about charities – began an inquiry, and Tag announced it would be working with the regulator to introduce a new training programme for its operatives.

Oxfam said it had halted its campaign and will only consider restarting it when the training has been introduced and approved by the PFRA.

The charity started its campaign with Tag on June 18, a week before The Sunday Telegraph’s revelations.

As with the Marie Curie project, paid staff stopped people in the street and encouraged them to send a text message donation. Donors would then be telephoned by staff from Listen – Tag’s call centre sister company, to persuade them to set up a direct debit.”

I’m certain many people will be glad to see the last of them. Do your donating online, where you can happily choose what you’re giving, and know exactly how much, and not be pestered over the phone afterwards.

 

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Carrying Water

Excitingly, we will be interviewing Ollie Mason to talk about his decision to carry 20 litres of water from John O’Groats to Land’s End.

If you have any questions you’d care to ask him (‘Why are you this crazy?’ is on the list) please do comment below.

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Interview: Cycling 400 miles for Mind

Made it!

Stuart Potter, when I met him, had just cycled from London to Edinburgh, the longest journey he has ever undertaken in one solo ride, for the charity Mind. He had along the way been taking part in conferences hosted by his employer 4Networking to talk about some of the issues raised by Mind and his own motivations for his biggest journey. First and foremost, how did it go?

“The cycling event really well, it was 400 miles over three days, a huge challenge both physically and psychologically. Not only was I riding for ten hours a day but getting up in the morning to give a really personal and emotional talk as well!”

Stuart has been a cyclist all of his life, and it has been this focus which allowed him an outlet for his emotions. After a cycling accident at the age of 17 left him with PTSD, Stuart found himself creating coping mechanisms. By the time he moved to university, without his previous network of friends and family, he had hidden his depression. “At uni I learnt to put a face on among all these people I didn’t know, and then the face became the norm. So the more I hid it, the more I felt afraid to let anyone see it. The only place I showed it was on my bike.”

He felt that cycling was the obvious choice for his challenge, but originally wasn’t sure which charity to support. “I’ve been fortunate enough to not need the support of any charities, I’ve got a great GP and supportive work colleagues. I spent two weeks agonising about what cause to do it for. Then one day I’m on the bike and realised there’s only one reason I can do this, because it’s why I cycle, for my mental health.”

“Mind are an umbrella for a number of small projects and campaigns, they train a lot of mental health nurses. The reason I did it for Mind is that they’re trying to break the stigma.” Stuart soon realised he had found a topic truly important to people. “I hit 100 followers on the first day, and then it just kept going up and up.”

“I realised that people just don’t talk about it. When I was diagnosed I did lots of research, and what is so hard to find is real stories of real people. You can’t work out if what you’re feeling is normal, if other people are going through what you’re feeling. And then to find out it isn’t normal, or you are going through a crisis… you start to think ‘who am I?'”

He has proved increasingly inspiring towards those who had never previously shared their experiences of depression:

“People don’t know what to say when you say I’ve got a mental health problem. Talking about the medication, there’s so much stigma, and people are ashamed, and more and more people have come to me and said ‘I’m so glad you’re talking about this.’ And if they can’t relate, they want to ask questions.

Through this project my wife has been talking to people online as well, and wrote a guest post for the blog about living with depression. A lot of people feel guilty because they don’t think they’re helping with their partner’s problems. And a lot of the time they just need to recognise when someone needs to be treated normally or given some space. People have spoken about how their partners changed their perspective once they read this.

If nothing else comes of it, that’s enough: I’ve helped someone.”

Setting off from the 4Networking at Leith

The journey itself, after three months of build up, was the straightforward part.

“Day one was 2 000 meters of climbing, which was the most I’ve ever done, and it was 135 miles, so those hills at the end started to hurt. The second day was flat for the first 90 miles, and it was really monotonous. The roads are flat, the scenery was flat, all I could see were hedges. Then yesterday (Thursday) it was all about the finish, I was really focussed.”

“But the last 20 miles I completely underestimated the traffic in London. I hit the outskirts and suddenly was stop, start, stop, start. I wanted to be at the finish point (the Look Ma No Hands café) by 8pm, and it closed at ten. Then there was a torrential downpour, and it was getting dark, and London drivers are just nuts! So getting there was this huge release. I got there at ten to ten. My pal Gav handed me a beer and I burst into tears.”

This is the first ride Stuart has ever undertaken for charity. “When I’m on my own, the only thing I’m aware of is my own will. But with this, people were watching me on Satnav. My driver Sian was reading me tweets and telling me when people were coming out to meet me. A mental health nurse I’d been chatting to online came out and joined me for 20 miles. Every time he saw me slowing down, he encouraged me. It was like every word he said was from the 1400 Twitter followers I had. That meant so much.”

His pledge of four thousand pounds is nearly reached, as the total on the site doesn’t yet show business pledges that he has received. He also is beginning to think of the future. “This is bigger than I hoped it was gonna be, so I now can’t stop. I’m not doing another challenge this year, but I want to do something next year. If I can help someone attempt something they wouldn’t have had the confidence to do beforehand, that would be fantastic.”

“The money’s important, Mind need it, and it never ceases to amaze me Britain’s capacity to give. But because this is such a hard subject, people are uncomfortable about listening. People are still asking ‘Why are you doing this?’ So what I’m focussed on is talking about it.”

And how does he feel right now? “Physically I feel a lot better than I thought I would: I’m gonna hurt tomorrow! I’m tired, and looking forward to getting back home.”

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In Support of Doctors, Nurses and Carers

I am unsure exactly what I feel about striking action: I am anti-establishment enough to think that it must always be justified, but I have never been employed enough to truly understand the motivations.

However I thought charities that support the work of medical staff (one of the most common occupations on the list of those that cause depression) deserve a mention in light of this.

In particular, this week (18 – 24 June) is Carers Week. Events are still ongoing, so check out their site, register, give back to some of the people with one of the most stressful roles in our society.

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Congratulations!

This is not charity-related at all but GOOD LUCK and CONGRATULATIONS to all those receiving their degree results. Your friends, family and teachers are undoubtedly very, very proud of you.

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Potter cycles Edinburgh to London

At 10am this morning, Stuart Potter left Edinburgh for a three-day cycle to London, during which time he will cover 400 miles, spend 24 hours in the saddle, climb over 3000m and burn over 20 000 calories. But it’s not about his waistline. Stuart is cycling for Mind, the mental health charity, and his route follows four specific points  linking together four of 4Networking‘s business breakfast meetings. To help his cause, he is giving a talk at each centre.

Go to www.biggestjourney.com to book a place at one of his talks, or explore the site and find out how you can join him. Then check back here in three days to read our interview with him!

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