World Mental Health Day 2023: Raising money to support Armed Forces personnel

Posted on: 10 Oct 2023
Posted by: Jack Dougherty

Jack Dougherty, director of marketing at Felsted School, explains how a 24-hour fell running charity challenge tested the limits of two sixth formers’ physical and mental endurance.

The mental and physical toughness required to take on the gruelling 24-hour, 106km ‘Bob Graham Round’ fell run in the Lake District was something two 18-year-old students from Felsted School had prepared themselves for. However, the run being called off before the end was an even bigger test of their resilience.

Sixth Form students and Army Cadets Ben Hewett and Tom Steingold trained for months in readiness for the challenge, which is equivalent to scaling Mount Everest, and aimed to raise funds for SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity. 

“Balancing schoolwork and training was difficult, but we were very committed to our goal,” said Tom. “We maintained a rigorous schedule of running 60 to 70km per week, supplemented with strength and conditioning sessions in the gym. Even as we prepared for our final exams in the summer, we remained focused on this important cause and the difference we hoped to make.” 

As soon as the pair had sat the last of their exams in June, they packed their bags and drove to the Lake District. On the day of the run, they woke up at 1.30am, ate an energy-packed breakfast and made final checks to their kit. At 3am they got underway, making their ascent up the first peak, Skiddaw, and continuing to run hard up and down the steep paths. Day dawned and the sun rose, ferociously hot. Temperatures rocketed throughout the day, well exceeding the seasonal average, and when they failed to dip in the evening the decision was taken to call off the run before the end of the 24 hours for safety reasons. 

“We were bitterly disappointed - we had worked for this for so long,” remembers Ben. “But before having to stop, we managed to complete 44 miles of the 66-mile course - that’s nearly two marathons back-to-back, on a mountain. Above all, we enjoyed the challenge and were very happy that we still raised a good amount for a great charity.” 

Undaunted, Ben and Tom are planning to attempt the ‘Bob Graham Round’ again next year and raise more money for SSFA to help support Armed Forces personnel with their wellbeing, the importance of which is emphasised very clearly to both students and staff at Felsted. 

Head of wellbeing at Felsted, Mrs Jane Miller, said: “Mental wellbeing, much like physical health, is something that needs to be worked on. At Felsted, we aim to create a culture of awareness of mental health needs, with no stigma or discrimination, with the hope of delivering well-adjusted young people who are happy in themselves and sympathetic to those around them. Ben and Tom rose to this double challenge with commitment and grace and should be incredibly proud of what they achieved.”

Felsted School has its own wellbeing centre on-campus, offering one-to-one and small-group sessions with therapists, as well as a programme of activities including yoga and meditation and expert talks. Many staff members are trained mental health first aiders and there is a strong pastoral system – 80 per cent of Senior School pupils, aged 13 and up, are boarders and are cared for by experienced house staff, including individual tutors and matrons, to help students manage their workloads and ensure there is a good balance of study, activity and relaxation in every day to maintain good wellbeing. 

About Jack Dougherty

Jack Dougherty is director of marketing at Felsted School.