How SSF supported this student's development
Any money you can raise will go directly to helping young people learn how much they can achieve through the unique power of Shakespeare. Be not afraid of greatness!
Whether you're planning a jog to the shops, a hike up Ben Nevis or a casual transatlantic swim, we would love to hear from you. Supporters have gone to amazing lengths to raise money for SSF.
If you are planning to fundraise for SSF, or you’d just like to hear more about how you can help, get in touch with us on [email protected].
Some of our fantastic fundraisers
The day had finally arrived. Five months of dedicated winter training and I was at the start of a very long day. The bags were packed, the food parcels were loaded and my bike was pining for the road.
Would my body hold up? Would my mind keep strong?
Five months previously, I announced I would undertake one of the toughest challenges in cycling. The challenge has a purity owing to its simplicity; climbing the height of Everest on a single ascent, on a single day, by bike. This meant climbing and descending nearly 9,000m on a single stretch of road.
The challenge had to be ambitious for me. Already a cyclist, I knew the challenge needed to inspire friends and family to dig deep in to their pockets and donate.
But more than that, I needed to feel the struggle.
I was raising money to support the tireless work that Shakespeare Schools Foundation (SSF) does. SSF’s core project is the Shakespeare Schools Festival; a nationwide annual Festival, where over 1,000 schools perform an abridged Shakespeare play in their local professional theatre.
Every year SSF works with 30,000 young people across 1,000 schools in over 130 theatres. Alongside the Festival, SSF runs a year-round programme of tailored activities in special schools and Pupil Referral Units. Their work is completely inclusive bringing together young people of all ages, from all backgrounds - particularly encouraging and supporting those living in areas of disadvantage and with greatest needs.
Not every young person learns in the same way. Not every young person has the same opportunities. Not every young person is inspired in the same way. I believe that cultural and artistic activities can provide an environment where young people can grow and develop as well as share new experiences together. The impact on young people of the programme SSF provides is profound.
On a challenge like this, you need your body to hold up, your mind to keep strong, and a healthy sprinkling of luck. The day before, we visited the Alpine climb I had trained for and it was closed for roadworks. We visited my back-up climb and this was closed due to snow. So, I picked a climb I’d only done once before simply because it was open. ‘Open’ is the right word for it.
Straddling my bike at 0530 at the foot of the Col des Aravis, I mentally visualised the day ahead. I needed to haul my body up this seven kilometre climb around 20 times in order to reach the summit of Everest. Full of nerves, adrenaline and calories, I set off on the first ascent.
The highs of the day were very high. Cresting the mountain at sunrise was magical; the tranquillity of solitude you experience by cycling in the mountains early in the morning was powerful; and ticking off the ascents knowing you’re getting closer keeps you strong.
But the contrasting lows I experienced were exhausting. The all-day headwind on the last and hardest four kilometres of the climb; the variable weather which plummeted my body temperature as I descended; the sheer struggle of keeping enough food and drink down.
But SSF were there all the way. Alongside messages and phone calls from friends and family, SSF kept track of my progress on Twitter. Supportive photos were sent in, a whole-office video with words of encouragement was shared, and many offers to supply food and drink if it could be transported from London in time!
It was during these lows, during the struggle, that I learned the biggest lesson about fundraising. Thanks to my wife, Melanie, who was in the support car carrying endless bottles of drink and many boxes of food. She was live-tweeting the day, and with constant updates on my progress, sharing photos from the ongoing challenge, and describing the turmoil I was going through, people could be there alongside me on my journey.
I learned that people enjoy seeing someone challenge themselves, and they want to be there with you. They want to feel like they are helping, like they are there easing the struggle for you. And so, following my progress on Twitter, people dug even deeper into their pockets.
I was beaten that day. I couldn’t reach the summit. After 13 ascents, 185km of distance, and over 5,500m of height gained, with the heaviest of hearts I had to climb off my bike. I’d climbed to the height of Everest Base Camp but I could not carry on. That moment was unbearable - I felt so hollow, so broken, so emotional.
Time has a magical power to soothe. I came into this challenge with two goals. The first was to ‘reach’ the summit of Everest by bike. The second was to raise money and awareness for SSF. Thanks to the unbelievable generosity of friends, family, colleagues and strangers, we raised more than I could have ever imagined! The £3,000 (with Gift Aid) will make a huge difference to the charity and the young people they work with and I cannot thank people enough for their kindness and goodwill.
I couldn’t reach the summit on that day but I did climb the mountain time after time, lap after lap, so that SSF can help young people climb their own mountain.
Find a mountain of your own and help SSF.
Priestland School’s Shakespeare world record success
Festival school Priestlands travelled all the way to New York to attempt the world record for the highest number of Shakespeare quotes spoken in five minutes. They raised £1,405.36 for SSF and successfully smashed the world record!
Barney’s London Marathon
Every year across the country up to 30,000 young people take to local professional stages supported by their teachers, local communities and Shakespeare Schools Foundation facilitators. There is, however, one other group of people who play a vital role in bringing the transformative power of Shakespeare to young people around the UK: our fundraisers. We spoke to Barney, a proud Festival alumnus, who is running the London Marathon this month in support of our work.
I started by asking Barney about his first experience of the Festival. He told me about taking part in the Festival for the first time at about 14 years old, performing The Comedy of Errors at the Tobacco Factory Theatre in Bristol. The experience was incredibly positive and, in his words, “eye-opening.” Barney had always loved theatre, but like many young people had been nervous about Shakespeare being “hard to understand and perform”. When it actually came to getting onstage, Barney found the Festival process inspiring and was struck by the confidence he and his friends gained from working alongside SSF’s team of professional actors, directors and facilitators.
One of the things Barney most remembers is the sense of togetherness he felt with the rest of his cast and the incredible sense of scale he felt, performing in a drama Festival alongside other schools in towns and cities across the country. He spoke passionately about how the Festival makes you “a part of something massive” and how inspiring this was, and noted that many of his school friends, who had never previously been interested in drama, pursued the subject to GCSE level and beyond. Two things emerge from my conversation with Barney: the remarkable scope of the Festival and the powerful, positive force it can have on individuals.
I asked Barney how he came to be such a strong supporter of SSF, raising money through cake sales and pub quizzes and, now, running the London Marathon. We spoke about his school’s performing arts specialism and how the loss of its funding for this stream of work led him to reflect on “how lucky we’d been” to have had the opportunity to take part in the Festival. Barney hopes that through his fundraising more young people might be able to access this incredible opportunity and noted, in particular, how supportive his work colleagues had been of his fundraising efforts.
Barney gave us his valuable advice for anyone thinking of fundraising for SSF: “It’s something to go for. Even if you have a small idea, dive in - it will help!”
We are incredibly proud to have wonderful supporters like Barney. I ended our conversation by asking him, all these years after first taking part, what the Festival means to him. His response summed things up perfectly: “A lot of people who’d never have dreamed of getting involved in Shakespeare did thanks to SSF and across the country that must have a huge impact”.
Barney will be running the London Marathon in support of Shakespeare Schools Foundation on Sunday 22nd April. You can support him and thousands of young people all over the UK by making a donation at: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/barneyjohnson
Maya’s artwork auction
Seven-year-old Maya auctioned her artworks on eBay to raise money for her favourite charities. She chose five pictures, five charities and signed and framed the original drawings, all of which were snapped up on eBay. Her artwork Adventure Map was auctioned in aid of SSF and raised a brilliant £23.
Liam’s sponsored swim
Liam O’Driscoll braved the June chills and plunged into the depths of Lake Windermere to raise money for SSF.
Liam found himself facing a one mile swim to shore without "side help" or lanes to grab onto. He explains on his JustGiving page that he’d only had six weeks of training so was understandably anxious. We hear he hid his nerves well on the day and are delighted that he finished the mile whilst raising £405!
Lake Windermere is set in the visually perfect Lake District with the title of being England’s largest lake, a title scary enough to put off many swimmers, with a length of 10.5 miles.
"I truly believe in what they do to give children and teenagers an opportunity they may never experience again."
Will’s London marathon
Will Hooper ran the London Marathon in the stonking time of 3.20.01 to raise over £1,300 for SSF. Will, who took up the challenge in January, trained through snow, wind and rain. He said:
"I set myself a tough target of 3 and a half hours but I was keen to battle through training and make it. It's amazing to know that the money raised will support 8 schools and over 200 children gain the Festival experience. I've opted to support the Sheffield Festival particularly, because of working with young people there in the past. A great few months!"
Sally’s artwork sale
Artist Sally Court and her friend Ann Mallalieu held a gallery evening in aid of SSF, raising an amazing £500.
Ann hosted the event and Sally’s artworks were available to buy with 25% of proceeds being donated to SSF.
"I have been a teacher in state schools for some of my life and I only wish that such an inspiring programme had come to my attention at that time. To give children from all walks of life confidence and esteem is such a positive step."
Curtis’ performance film
Curtis, who attends Rokeby School in London, took part in the Festival last year. While taking part, he filmed a performance of his cast's A Midsummer Night's Dream production and sold DVDs to cast members. His entrepreneurial spirit has raised an amazing £400 for SSF and will be put to work immediately helping more young people to take part in the Festival this year.
Thank you Curtis and Rokeby School!