When I first joined Aspire in 1998 I was amazed at how much work and effort went into raising funds to support the charity.  I reflected on this a lot and was determined to think of something that could raise much more money for less effort and cost.  My professional background was in Contract Leisure Management and I started thinking about an event I used to organise to boost customer numbers in the swimming pool called the Channel Swim Challenge.  Quite simply, it was to swim 22 miles in the pool in ten weeks.  With good promotion I knew it was popular and encouraged customers to come more often and become committed regular swimmers.  It was good for business. 

But the challenge was how to get this happening in as many swimming pools throughout the country and to make it into a fundraising challenge for Aspire.

I wrote a comprehensive business plan for the Challenge and presented it to the Board of Trustees of Aspire.  I wanted this challenge to be fully inclusive so that, with regular commitment, anyone could complete it.  There was unease about my idea as I was asking the Charity to back me and approve a budget of £37k, which was a lot of money 20 years ago to give to a new employee who hadn’t even worked for the Charity for a year and I wasn’t even a Fundraiser!  I was asked to present my plan to a panel of marketing and creative experts at Saatchi & Saatchi who would then advise the Charity.   I knew my idea would work and confidently pitched it to the panel.

The experts backed me and gave a strong recommendation to approve the budget.  I promised to run a pilot at Aspire’s swimming pool to prove the concept first which was successful, but the real challenge was to make the challenge national.  We partnered with marketing experts within the Leisure Industry and, in our first full year, the challenge went national raising over £75,000 for Aspire.

I never really thought about how big the Aspire Channel Swim challenge could become or about the positive impact it would have on the many thousands of people who have participated.

I was just so determined to create an inclusive event that would raise much needed funds to support the national expansion of our Services.  I have been humbled by the many stories of how so many people have been affected positively by taking part, and by the fact that it has raised over £6.5 million in support of Aspire.

The Aspire Channel Swim*

  • The Aspire Channel Swim has been running for 20 years
  • In its first year in 1999, the Swim took place just at the Aspire Leisure Centre in Stanmore and saw 54 participants raise just over £10,000.  20 years later, we regularly have over 5,000 swimmers raising up to £600,000.
  • Overall, the Aspire Channel Swim has raised over £6.5 million to support people with Spinal Cord Injury.  
  • Although the majority of swimmers are in the UK, we have seen participants from as far and wide as New Zealand and the Falkland Islands.
  • Anyone of any age can take part! We’ve seen all ages, from a group of babies to people in their late 80s.
  • Although the Challenge is to swim 22 miles (to France) many people swim 44 miles (back to England) and one team even swam the distance of the Atlantic.
  • It’s free to sign up and you’ll get a welcome pack, so sign up today at aspirechannelswim.co.uk

* figures correct in 2019

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