Childbase Partnership conquers the Pyrenees for charity
An intrepid four member team in a 40-strong Childbase Partnership expedition has conquered the Pyrenees in a gruelling four day hike and climb to help raise £4,657.30 for charity.
Battling snow, sleet and rain which forced other expeditions off the mountains, the team from the award-winning, employee-owned Childbase, which has 44 day nurseries throughout the South of England, climbed and navigated tiny paths bounded by sheer drops following the ‘Freedom Trail’ to Spain.
Jacky Bufton, Manager of the Ofsted-rated ‘Outstanding’ Windermere Day Nursery in Kettering, returning to a hero’s welcome, complete with banner and chocolate-filled medal, by staff and children said:
“It was an extraordinary experience and undoubtedly the most challenging and scary thing I have every done. I have been overwhelmed by everybody’s kindness and support and feel enormously proud to be a member of this expedition and what we achieved together,” she said.
The ‘fabulous four’ who made it from France to Spain were Jacky, David Thomas of Woodcote Day Nursery in Purley, Jose Guilherme of West Cambridge, and Oana Stamate of Greengables in Sandhurst.
Amid unexpected snow storms, which reduced visibility, and falls that resulted in a broken arm for one climber and a dislocated finger for a guide, only the fittest in the 40-strong Childbase Partnership expedition were permitted to continue the challenge.
Describing it as the toughest challenge of his life, Jose Guilherme of the Ofsted-rated ‘Outstanding’ West Cambridge Day Nursery, said an intensive training programme - which included carrying an 11 kilo rucksack with tent and supplies - in advance of the expedition did not prepare him for the conditions.
“Tiredness was a constant as we pushed our bodies to the limit every day. The hardest part was finding out that all the groups before us had been forced to quit, which was demoralizing, but we kept pushing on and we finished it,” he said.
“The team was fantastic and so supportive of each other. I never thought it possible that I could so quickly bond with, and care for, a group of people I’d never met before but we have become good friends and will cherish this experience forever,” he added.
Oana Stamate of Greengables Day Nursery in Sandhurst said:
“I was focused on being physically ready it never occurred to me to that it would be a mental challenge as well. I was so scared on the third day that maybe I couldn’t do it but the wonderful support at home and on the mountain made me even more determined,” she said.
“I am in awe of the people who did this journey with little or no equipment, as they fled Nazi occupation during the war. When I reached the Spanish boarder I cried with joy,” she added.
David Thomas, a keen history enthusiast, from Woodcote Day Nursery in Purley said:
“Our guides were ex-RAF and quite extraordinary. Half way through day three we passed the crash site of a wartime Halifax bomber which was an emotional moment for all of us.
“We were so very proud to be following the trail used by refugees escaping the Nazis and to honour their memory. That was a great motivation,” he said.
Other hardships included walking and climbing in wet clothes; sleeping in tents and the last leg of the journey which involved clinging to a rock face rope, on a 12 inch wide path with a sheer drop on one side, while carrying an 11 kilo rucksack.
Other highlights of the challenge included a three-minute shower in a mountain retreat; sleeping in a shepherds hut, and the fact that, due to the conditions, the team set off early on day three ahead of 13 young army recruits who failed to catch them up.
Mike Thompson, CEO and founder of Childbase Partnership and the expedition leader, chose the challenge - the latest in the company’s ‘Once in a Lifetime’ experiences for staff – but was forced to abandon his crossing into Spain due to the conditions. He met the successful team as they came off the mountains in Spain.
“I have watched people of all abilities take themselves out of their comfort zone and through sheer determination reach distance, heights and endure depths which they never believed possible. I am overwhelmed by the individual, and collective, achievements,” he said.
The Freedom Trail, one of the toughest World War 2 escape routes from Nazi-occupied France, involves trekking and climbing through terrain of cirques, rocky ridges, beech forests and mountain lakes reaching heights of 2522m before the descent into Spain.
Fund-raising for the expedition was in aid of Children’s air ambulance - adopted by the nursery for a year-long fund-raising drive - has just one helicopter covering the entire country and currently can only reach one in every three children and babies who need their life-saving help.
Building on the premise that a happy, energised and motivated individual is better equipped to meet workplace challenges; consistently perform to the highest standards and provide a positive influence to colleagues, Childbase ‘Once in a Lifetime Experiences’ offer employees a variety of opportunities to broaden their horizons or challenge themselves physically or intellectually.
Teams have taken part in the New York and Chicago Marathons; conquered Kilimanjaro, the world’s tallest free-standing mountain in Africa for charity, conducted training sessions in South African townships, where fund-raising at home has provided day care facilities, and successfully swum the English Channel to France.