‘St Catherine’s is a national charity providing specialist care, education and therapy for young people with speech, language and communication needs. Based on the Isle of Wight, we have a residential school for 74 pupils, aged seven to 19, as well as post-19 provision to support nine young adults living independently.
As an independent school, we rely heavily on income from fundraising. With most of our regular activities being cancelled last year, we decided to run a high-profile outdoor event to promote the school and keep it at the forefront of people’s minds.
We came up with the idea of a walking relay that would involve a limited number of participants (32 individuals made up of school staff and their families), but that the public could engage with at a social distance or virtually.
Our Take on the Isle of Wight Challenge involved small teams completing stretches of a 73-mile route around the island. The goal was to raise funds towards the creation of a sensory garden – a calming outdoor therapy space where children could learn about the environment and horticulture. Our children have a lot of sensory needs so this was a project that promised to be really beneficial for them.
We ran the challenge over a weekend in October. I had planned the route to be mostly on footpaths or pavements next to the coast road, with some off-road footpath work during the day. I estimated it would take around 21 hours in total, and I broke it down into sections, working out how long each stretch would take.
We set up a sponsorship page as one team on Virgin Money Giving, and used the link on our social media. Our target was £1,000, and we started sharing the campaign about a month before the event. This meant people were able to see the donations coming in both before and on the day itself.
The staff walked in small groups (according to their school bubbles), and our post-19 students also completed one off-road stretch. The challenge started at 8am on Saturday and the groups used our school logo – a Catherine wheel – as a baton. Each group walked a pre-planned distance that they were confident of completing. One pregnant staff member walked two miles with her young son, while another participant ran a marathon in the opposite direction!
The event quickly gained momentum. I’d posted a collage of staff photos online so that people watching were able to put faces to names. I also posted photos of the participants as they began their legs – and the sponsorship total increased by around £150 each time this happened. People loved following us and many commented that they had felt really involved.
I walked the last 13-mile leg from Ryde to Ventnor through the night with two others. We started at 1am with head torches and we could see from our social media feeds that lots of people had stayed up to cheer us on. We arrived back at school at 5am on Sunday morning. On Monday, everyone at school was talking about the challenge, so it turned out to be a brilliant team-building exercise too!
We raised more than £2,500 to start the garden and we’ve decided to continue the challenge as an annual event. We’re thinking of getting businesses on board, with teams paying a small entry fee and raising a minimum amount. We’ll also give the children a voice about what the garden means to them.’
Michaela White, community fundraiser, St Catherine’s School, Ventnor, Isle of Wight