A new year for adventure

The Aurora Borealis over Eielson Air Force base, Alaska
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Strang

It’s a brand new year, Adventure-seekers! And do you know what this means? No, not New Year resolutions — but that the Great Arctic Fundraisng Adventure is now a matter of weeks away! No longer is it “next year”, but instead something like 8 weeks away.

Am I crazy to be swapping a nice warm flat in east London for some basic cabins in the Arctic Circle, and exchanging my days of social media marketing for sledding across frozen lakes and Arctic forests?

People ask me “Isn’t life an adventure on its own?”. So, maybe I am crazy, because the answer for me is no. When I am looking up at the Aurora Borealis, or speeding across the Arctic tundra with a pack of huskies I will know this is why I am doing it.

Not forgetting the other reason why I am doing it, either — raising £6,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support.

The new University College Hospital Macmillan Cancer Centre will open this year, and cost £100 million to build. Macmillan Cancer Support will be making its biggest ever contribution, of £10 million, towards the centre. The University College Hospital Macmillan Cancer Centre will be the first of its kind in the NHS and will redefine the ways patients are treated, using the best diagnostic and treatment techniques to improve survival rates.

Macmillan will provide a Wellbeing Centre within the building where people affected by cancer can find the best information and support, including advice around coping with personal and financial impact of cancer and returning to work.

The start of a new year can be hard when you have lost loved ones. You wonder what their plans might have been for the year ahead. It can also be tough on anyone living with cancer, or caring for someone living with cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support are there, providing help and support. If you want to find out more about Macmillan, or would like to contact them follow the links or visit http://www.macmillan.org.uk/

So far I have raised £3,359 towards the Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure for Macmillan — and this year promises more pub quizzes, more station collections, and the Aurora Borealis.  You can help support the Arctic Adventure with a donation here or by buying a fundraising calendar here.

The Arctic Calendar

The Arctic Calendar
Image courtesy of Amanda at Apples & Green

The lovely and talented Amanda of Apples and Green fame has produced a charity 2012 calendar for the Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure.

Rejecting the clichéd slightly rude and nude “Calendar Girls” style, Amanda has instead gone back to the 1950s for a vintage pin-up inspired calendar, featuring members of her community theatre group, Starling Arts, along with work
colleagues, at least two members of RunDemCrew, and some mutual friends.

The Arctic Calendar project started for Amanda as a pie-in-the-sky idea hatched one Saturday evening in an East London pub.  It was hard to guess how popular it would be, but a dozen or so helpful volunteers would be all that was needed to get it off the ground.

Just 10 days later, and Amanda had over 20 models, all volunteering their time to dress in their favourite vintage inspired looks and spend an afternoon playing in front of the camera, all for a good cause.  4 photo shoots and countless hours of photo editing on, and there were drunk housewives, retro Playboy bunnies,  dashing gentlemen, swimsuit models, and a whole host of other great styles.

Producing the calendars in time for Christmas meant some delays in printing and delivery from Vistaprint — in fact, the original samples ordered were so delayed that they only arrived this week — but the original print run sold like hot cakes, and the desk calendars have all sold out.

Luckily, there are still wall calendars left, so you can start 2012 in style.  To get your own Arctic Calendar and help raise money for The Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure, order a calendar online at http://arcticcalendar.bigcartel.com.

The Arctic Calendar
Image courtesy of Amanda at Apples & Green

Fundraising adventures

What’s new with the Flat-Footed Adventurer and my Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure?  Actual Fundraising has taken up a lot of my time, pre-adventure recently.

In the last few months I have spent entire days collecting in National Rail stations Paddington and St Pancras.  I have also spent large amounts of time collecting on a local retail park, outside a local Tesco store, and at a Poundland fun day near Elephant and Castle.  Some volunteers I’ve met while out collecting have told me they don’t like street collections and find them depressing.  I’m not clear in what way they find them depressing, but I enjoy them.

Sure, they’re often long days; my collections in national rail stations have had me on my feet for 12 hours (give or take some breaks), and I’ve heard complaints from volunteers that the collections recently aren’t nearly as profitable as they have been in the past.

I enjoy the human interaction.  Most people just chuck a couple of quid the bucket as they hurry past, but some people stop to talk — they’ll stop and thank me for the work that Macmillan Cancer Support do.  Or they’ll tell me how cancer has affected their own lives, as a patient or through knowing someone with cancer.  Sometimes they are sad stories, sometimes they are stories with a happy ending — but these people remind me of why I am raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support with this adventure.  Some people don’t just put some coins in the bucket, either — some people will reach into their wallets and put a banknote into the collection.

I also enjoy observing life, watching people going about their business.

I was recently at Droidcon — a conference dedicated to the Android operating system.  While there I had the opportunity to talk to HTC, Sony Ericsson and Accenture about the Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure.  HTC were enthusiastic to hear about it, and the other two were progressively less interested.  Unfortunately, attempts to follow-up haven’t been very fruitful.  I have also tried to make contact with RedBull in several different ways — but have had the same frustrating lack of response.

To date, my fundraising efforts online and offline have helped me to raise just over £2,000 — which is roughly a 30% of my way towards the total, and I haven’t yet been told how much my collection in St Pancras raised.

I need to have raised £4,800 by December 26 — so I still need all the support I can get.  You can contribute towards the Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure here and show your own support for Macmillan Cancer Support.

What are you thinking?

Every now and then I have a “What are you thinking?” moment and the enormity of the Arctic challenge hits me.  In that moment it’s like I realise my place in the universe, how small I am, and at what tremendous odds I am up against.  It’s truly terrifying.

I think about the £6,000 I have to raise.  I think about the physical challenges.  I think about the sheer speed the dog sleds are going to be travelling at.

I think about all of these things, and I worry that I’m just not up to it.

Sometimes I think maybe it’s too hard, and I should admit defeat..

But I haven’t given up, and I won’t give up.

Yes, I’m out of shape, and yes I have only raised 25% of my fundraising total so far.  Yes the Arctic Circle is one of the most inhospitable places on the planet, and yes I will be in charge of some hyperactive huskies pulling me across ice and snow at break-neck speeds.  And, yes, the fundraising is still hard work.

But I can do this, and I will do this — one way or another.  I think perhaps you have to be slightly crazy sometimes to see the odds stacked so high against you and want to carry on anyway.

As always, you can show your own support for the Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure here: www.justgiving.com/james-chesters.

Adventure is out there

Preparations for the Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure have got into full swing this week — and hardly a minute too soon.

Donations via the Just Giving page have reached £220 this week. It might seem like a slow start, but that’s 5 donations — including one from someone who is a little bit a personal hero of mine, Peter Lubbers.  The man does it all — ultra-marathons, bungee-jumping, skydiving — and still finds the time to be an expert on HTML5.

Corporate requests for sponsorship have so far been met with polite declines.  From a sports marketing perspective, I also approached several brandsto see if they would get behind “The Flat Footed Adventurer”, with much the same level of success.  Adidas have told me that while Macmillan Cancer Support are one of the charities they are supporting this year, they can’t support me “due to resource & budget limitations”.  Animal — without a doubt one of my own favourite brands — agreed that Macmillan Cancer Support are a great cause, and like so many others the friendly press office contact had seen first-hand their work, and said on a personal level he “supported” any charity fundraising for them.  However, like so many others, Animal have to draw a line somewhere.  In this case, I was told normally they offer goods to raffle off or to support in any event that ties in with their core of surf, board and bike sports.  However, dog sledding doesn’t count as one of their core board sports — although it involves snow.  As they say, there has to be a line somewhere.

Among the other responses I have had included a no from the office of Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London.  As a publicly funded organisation and a strategic body for London, I am told the Greater London Authority is not in a position to assist individual causes, no matter how worthy they might be.  As “sorry, no” responses go, while it may be entirely copy/pasted, there’s very little you can argue with in it.

I have not had any kind of response from the press offices of London’s various transport services, nor from my local MP.

In a more positive light, the organisers of the Hacker News London Meetup made an announcement to their members about my Arctic Fundraising Adventure ahead of this month’s meeting, and I was given a very kind donation by the organiser of the London Java Community.

Outside of fundraising, I was generously given a free personal training consultation by Matt Wolstenholme this week — Matt has a variety of fitness qualifications and bags of experience under hsi belt (as well as being a talented sports writer), so I considered myself very fortunate to get an exclusive consultation with him.  Although I am sore today, and noticeably out of shape, I found I’m not nearly as disastrously unfit as I had thought I was — but this could just be as a result of Matt’s motivational style.  If you’re in London and want a personal trainer, Matt comes highly recommended by me — and hopefuly, if finances allow, I will be able to see Matt on a regular basis for more personal training. With his help, I have no doubt that in no time I will be fit for chasing huskies and pushing sleds uphill.

So , where does this leave me?  I consider this some of my first steps along the road — I have made a start on fundraising, but there is an awful lot more to go.  I have also had one personal training session, the first of many more hours of fitness training.  From here, we can only go up.  There needs to be more donations, which will surely come as a result of more effort to find the donations — so there must be more emails written and more contacts made.  I also need to start some traditional supermarket collections.

I should also get a proper press release written, since all contact with the Docklands newspaper was met with a resounding silence.

In the news his week was a report that Four in 10 Britons will get cancer.  According to the Guardian, “Figures obtained by Macmillan Cancer Support show that 42% of Britons had cancer before they died – compared with around 35% a decade ago.  The study, which analysed data from 2008, also revealed that 64% of cancer sufferers will eventually die from the disease.”

It reminds me of why I am doing this trip in the first place.  You can donate to my Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure here.  Adventure is out there!

Mon amour, l’aventure commence

Image source: http://bit.ly/nw3xgY

It’s official.

I signed up.  I paid my money, I filled out the form, and I signed up. The Great Arctic Fundraising Adventure starts here.

I saw the doctor last week, and it was probably one of the fastest check-ups ever.  I explained I was travelling to the Arctic Circle next year, he raised an eyebrow.  I told him I wanted a clean bill of health before signing up.  He checked my notes, listened to my chest, confirmed that there wasn’t anything I was currently suffering with, and ordered a variety of blood tests — just to be thorough.

I asked, “Should I be concerned by the trip down the stairs I had a few years back?  Before the Peru adventure?”
“Do you have any symptoms now?” He responded
“No…”
“Then I’m sure it’s fine.”

And that’s it, it’s official — short of the blood tests showing up anything alarming (which, let’s face it, they won’t): I am healthy.  I won’t say “fit and healthy” as there is a lot of fitness work to go between now and next March — along with a lot of fundraising.

The fundraising goal is £6,000 which seems insurmountable — but the way I see is if I can get 60 companies to each donate £100, then I’m set.  The publicity and promotion machine must now get to work.

Speaking of publicity, a special thank you goes out today to David Gallagher, the Senior Partner / President of Ketchum Pleon PR who kindly retweeted a link to my JustGiving page.  Thank you, David!  Also worthy of heartfelt gratitude for a retweet is John Williams, author of the inspirational book Screw Work, Let’s Play — his 30 Day Screw Work, Let’s Play Programme has given me some much needed support and contacts.

As mentioned, I have already set up a JustGiving page, along with a Facebook page, and a LinkedIn group.  Take up of memberships to the social media  pages has been slow getting started — I expected donations to take a lot of work, but have been surprised by a lack of interest to join the Facebook page.

Donations, on the other hand, have started strong — I have received to date two donations of £50 each, which means I only have £5,900 left to raise.   One of the organisers of the Hacker News London Meetup group has agreed to put out a message to the group about my fundraising adventure, for which I am very grateful –I was hoping this might be a way to find 60 companies each willing to make a £100 donation, but that might have been a little optimistic.

I am now wrestling with myself over whether I should ask more groups I am associated with through my work for their help, or whether I should keep a separation between the two.

The message remains the same however: all donations, of any size, are equally welcome — and if you are unable or unwilling to donate, there are other ways you can help.  You can help by telling people about my adventure, and why I am doing it. You can help by finding out if there is anyone in your company I can ask for a donation from. You can help by suggesting big companies with PR budgets I could talk to. You can help by suggesting press contacts who would be interested in my adventure.  Or you can help by just giving me messages of encouragement — it’s all welcome.

Warning: road block ahead

Image source: http://www.roadblockdnb.co.uk

We left the flat-footed adventurer last time trying to find support from adventurer-turned-Gardener’s-World-presenter Ben Fogle, as well as financial help and press coverage from the Docklands newspaper.  So, what is new?

My email to the editor of Docklands was met with an auto-reply: he was out of the office, please contact x in his absence.  Fair enough, I redrafted the email and sent it to the new news contact.  Two emails, two auto-replies.  This contact had actually left the newspaper some weeks before — and was now on an adventure of his own, in Africa.  You can follow his own adventures on the site It All Began in Africa.  It’s very inspiring stuff — doing good work, and finding positive stories in such an often-misunderstood continent.  This auto-reply gave me yet another contact — but I figured maybe the paper’s editor was just out of office for a day or two.

I called the newspaper the next day, using all of my own journalist training to sound expected, asking for the editor by name, and feigning surprise when I was he was out of the office.  What I didn’t expect, when I asked if he would be back in the following day, was to be told he was on long-term sick leave.  Often this is code for a nervous breakdown, but I wish the man well, whatever the circumstances.  I got from the receptionist a name for the news editor who was effectively in charge these days, but didn’t take the offer of being put straight through — people rarely appreciate cold calls.  The third email — to the news editor — ddn’t bounce back.  It also got absolutely no response whatsoever.  My offer to the Docklands newspaper for exclusive coverage of my dog sled adventure was as good as refused.

In a continuing theme, I have also not had a response from Ben Fogle.  That’s hardly a surprise, however — I get more emails than I can handle at work, I can’t imagine how many emails someone like Ben Fogle must get.  I doubt he ever even saw it.

But help has come from an unexpected place.  My work.

I deliberately didn’t ask them for any donation for financial support before now — not because I didn’t think they would provide it, but because I didn’t think it was fair to put them in that position.  However, when I was telling a colleague recently about the adventure and my struggle to get the money to sign up, he pointed out the obvious: I could earn it.  It was obvious: in exchnage for £500, I will work one evening a week for the next 10 or so weeks — on top of the day job.  Yes, it means that once a week I will be working 12 hour days or longer, but it’s worth it.

That was one road block stormed through: I’ll get the money in this month’s pay.  I am now free to sign up for the adventure.

I made contact with Cancer Research UK, to register to fundraise for them, to tell them my plans — and to get their permission.  This last part has thrown up road block number 2.  I am welcome to fundraise for them, and they will give me all the support I need: except for the option of the “minimum sponsorship” for the trip.  The charity does not have the facilities to pay Across the Divide for the trip, so if I want to take part and want to raise money for them, that’s all great — but it has to be self funded.

My early attempts at securing a corporate sponsor for this failed, and my more recent attempt to just get sponsorship for the deposit also floundered.  If I didn’t have £500, I certainly don’t have the best part of £3,000.  So, I have returned to the idea of fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support.  It’s not a case of favouring one charity over another, I was planning to fundraise for Cancer Research only because my cousin requested for my uncle John’s funeral that donations go to Cancer Research — his illness had been too rapid for him to receive any support at home from Macmillan.  I like to think of cancer patients and their families getting the support that they need, and I think my uncle John would have felt the same way.  Naturally, my family have no objections to any choice of charity.

Macmillan Cancer Support have in a way given me a third road block in the process of helping me overcome the second.  They are absolutely fine with the “Minimum Sponsorship” option, and being invoiced by Across the Divide for the cost of the trip — except that they have a different cost to donation ratio than the organisers.  What does this mean? It means that I will have a higher minimum sponsorship — instead of £4,500 it will be more like £6,000.

Next week is the beginning of July. The trip will be in March.  I expect I will have to have raised the money by about January.  That’s roughly £1,000 a month.  Do we think I can do it?  I have to think about it and talk to Macmillan’s fundraising team.  I spoke to someone tonight who told me that his own experience of fundraising has shown him that recording your event and making it available afterwards can double your total raised — just in donations received after the event.  It’s worth bearing in mind.

The next wave of companies being contacted for help/sipport/collateral will be footwear companies — who better to support an adventurer with flat feet like myself — and perhaps electronics companies who would like to give or lend me a small camera.

But first, I should sign up for the adventure.

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

What’s the latest with the Flat-Footed Adventurer?

Having drawn a blank on corporate sponsorship, and come away empty-handed from any recent sharing of this blog, I have stepped my campaign up a gear. This trip is not going to beat me before it has even begun.

On the advice of a gentleman by the name of Nick, I have contacted the legendary Ben Fogle — who as an adventurer is perhaps best known for his participation in the inaugural South Pole Race. Will Ben Fogle be able to give me any advice on preparing, fitness, publicity or raising even the paltry sum that is the trip deposit? Will Ben Fogle even read my email, let alone respond? You, dear reader(s), will among the first to know.

I have also been advised that I should seek medical opinion on if it is even advisable that I make this trip, given the accident I had before my Peru trip. One should always consult a doctor before embarking on a new fitness regimen, but how many of us ever actually do? I certainly never do, and don’t recall when I last saw a doctor — other than the recent trip to see one in France when I broke my collarbone snowboarding. Yes, I am accident prone and clumsy. Yes, these two things plus dog sledding in the wilds of the Arctic Circle might lead to calamity. But will that put me off? Hells, no. Just the same, I feel I should at least tell my doctor of my plans and give him a chance to object.

Other than contacting adventurers-turned-Gardener’s-World-presenters, I also have made contact with the editor of a local newspaper. In exchange for their financial support — either of the trip deposit or a larger sum towards the fundraising total — I will provide them with content. How much content will be discussed with regards to how much help they can give me. Once again, I am filled with suspense. Will the editor read my email? Will he file it in the tray marked “bin”? Or will he think it’s a good idea and make contact? I have given first refusal to this particular newspaper — if I don’t get a repsonse, or get a response in the negative, then I will widen it out to other newspapers instead.

Until I can pay this deposit and sign up, I am kind of stalled — the usual recipes for charity fundraising don’t apply until I actually am fundraising for the charity. At which point, there will be requests to collect outside supermarkets, in Tube stations, and anywhere else I can think of.  But there needs to be action, so the first action is keep making contact with people who might be able to help.

Even if you’re reading this, you can help. You might not be able to donate money, or your services as a fitness trainer or native Norwegian speaker, but you can still help. I need people to help me organise events, I need people to help me get publicity. I need people to keep me motivated, to say “you’re doing great!” or “Must try harder!” (as all my school reports used to say).

In the words of John Hegley: “I need you like a lookalike needs somebody to look like”.

The Flat Footed Adventurer needs a patron!

Image source: http://tinyurl.com/44n294x

Next year, the big adventure is Dog Sledding in the Arctic Circle — courtesy of Across the Divide.

To self-fund the challenge will cost me £2,860, including the £500 deposit I have to pay on registering.  All fundraising money raised between now and the trip would be donated 100% to Cancer Research.

Alternatively, I can choose to raise a minimum of £4,720 in sponsorship for Cancer Research and pay only the £500 deposit from my own money.

I only need £500 to sign up with this option, but that’s money I don’t have lying around, going spare.  But I do have some ideas on what I can do about this.

What I need as “The Flat Footed Adventurer” is some kind of sponsorship, or support — in other words, I need a patron.  The idea is if this challenge and the resulting publicity is successful to turn “The Flat Footed Adventurer” into a Free Range Career.

But we need to focus on this challenge first, and my ideas need some explaining  I have made a list of as far as I can tell everything I need to make this challenge happen, and it looks something like this:

  • Finance: This is most important, as I don’t have £2860 — corporate support towards this target will allow me to register and begin the charity fundraising.
  • Fitness: This will be a challenge in the true sense of the word, and will require me to be dedicated to getting into the best physical shape I can be — and have ever been.  To do this I will need expert training, guidance and support.
  • Publicity: I am a talented writer, and I want to document every step of the challenge, from signing up and raising money for Cancer Research, to the days spent sledding through the Norwegian wilderness.  I will need help in getting my journals publicised — and later, hopefully, published.

I have tried making contact with several large financial institutions.  8 out of 10 did not give me the time of day to even respond.  One replied, curtly, that they do not support individuals.  One replied and was both warm and helpful, sadly they could not help but they wished me luck.  That was a bust.

The trouble is, I don’t know who to contact.  Surely, there are companies out there who could help and would want to help.  When I hiked the Inca Trail in 2009, it was largely due to the help of transport giant First Group who were very generous in their sponsorship — and they, in return, received a wealth of publicity, both in print and online.  There is a tremendous opportunity for positive PR for any companies supporting me with this — helped my own background in Public Relations.  I am hoping this will help me to at least find people who might know people who can help.

Without the finance in place, I can’t begin to find contacts for help with the other parts — because the trip can’t happen.  I can get as fit as I like, learn to speak Norwegian and have a stunning network of people eager to help publicise my writing, but it’s all for nothing if I can’t even afford to go.

Cancer has directly affected my family.  In 2008, my aunt Margie succumbed to the illness after a long battle — she had loved to travel, and loved walking, and she was my inspiration for the trip to Machu Picchu.  In 2010, my uncle John (my aunt’s — and my Dad’s — brother) was the victim of an aggressive brain cancer.  The illness took him so quickly that there wasn’t time to receive any nursing at home, but the family requested any donations to be made to Cancer Research UK.  My uncle loved dogs, and this seems like a fitting way to remember both my aunt Margie and my uncle John, who were my Dad’s two oldest siblings.  I want to be able to raise awareness as well as money for Cancer Research. In the UK alone, someone is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes.

To summarise, what do I need from you?  I need you to help spread the word.  Please share this post with friends, with family, with followers.  Please.  Take 10 seconds just to think if you work for, or know, a company that would be able to help me achieve this challenge.  But most of all, please help spread the word — or if you have a spare few grand, and want the publicity, get in touch!