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.