The President’s Challenge: an early progress report

12 May 2021, Julie Barratt, CIEH President

Scone with clotted cream and jam

Here we are, six weeks into the CIEH President’s Challenge and it would be fair to say that it is well and truly underway. At the last count 183 of us are strung out along the South West Coast path, some significantly more strung out than others. The current ‘leader’ (I know it’s not a race, Gary McFarlane) has completed over 500 miles, but some of us are yet to start and the rest are at all points in between.


According to Patrick Mackie, by the end of April we had walked or run 15,967 miles between us, and had raised £853 for Water for Kids, which just squeaked over £1,000 when Gift Aid was added. Some participants have hit the halfway mark, so meals are being donated to people in need, and we have planted 145 trees.

The measurable achievements are great, but so are the unmeasurable ones. A significant number of participants have said that they are walking far more than they used to, and are feeling the benefit of doing so, pointing to the addictive nature of getting their steps in, logging their mileage and watching the little red dot having a lovely holiday going round the virtual coast path while we remain, for the most part, at home. The number of online meetings that start with people comparing their mileages and expressing shock/amazement/disbelief at how much other people have done and comparing mileages with each other. The number of people who have said how much better they feel for getting out from behind their computer screen and going out to complete their mileage, with family members, friends and no small number of dogs, who must be blessing the day that their owners signed up to the source of unlimited walks.

The Facebook group has become a great community of President’s Challengers. Walkers from all over the UK, and beyond are posting pictures of their walks and the fauna and flora, industrial heritage and fabulous scenery they are encountering. We are seeing places where we used to live or go on holiday and also seeing places that are going onto our bucket lists of must-go-to places to visit – that’s the Isle of Man for me, thanks to Chris Ashford’s photos. We are supporting each other as well, when one participant stopped posting photos from France for a couple of days, I got messages asking if she was okay. Inquiries revealed that she had fallen while walking her dogs, but despite the evidence on some pretty gruesome photos she shared with me which we decided were too graphic for the Facebook page she was fine and would be posting again shortly.

There have been some great debates raging on Facebook too – the great scone debate being one, and a multi-layered one at that. Arguments about fruit versus plain, butter or no butter, jam then cream or cream then jam, to say nothing about how scone should be pronounced, sc(own) or s(gone). To show how seriously I am taking this debate I have taken the advice of Dr Rob Crouch, co-founder of the Environmental Health Research Network and we have developed a rigorous mixed-methods scone sampling strategy where n>100 with a qualitative evaluation of the Devon versus Cornwall method, specifically the critical jam or cream first debate. Rob hails from Cornwall so has had to declare an interest, but there has been no shortage of research assistants who have come forward and volunteered to help in a heart-warming display of teamwork. It's not all been good, I am still traumatised by the drama that was #jellybabygate, but the less said about that the better.

Many of you will know that I have been invited to continue on the post of President next year and I’ve been delighted to indicate my willingness to do so. This means that not only will I be in post when this President’s Challenge finishes on the 28 March 2022, but that there could be another one next year. It was always in my mind that there might be an annual challenge, open to everyone to participate, just as a bit of fun and a way of raising money for a good cause, subject to the President at the time being happy to support it, and encouragingly people have already been asking me what next year’s challenge will be.  There certainly will be one, as yet what remains to be decided, but as we are only six weeks into this year’s challenge the details of next years can wait!

I get the feeling that those of us who participated in the very first Presidents Challenge, even those who were virtually carried by someone else (Sterling Crew, being given a piggyback by Lisa Ackerley, you know who you are) will be able to boast that we are part of an exclusive group – those who participated in very first President’s Challenge.

It’s not too late to join, but time is running out. Entries close on 31 July, but that still gives you eight months to complete the challenge – join here and you will be able to join the exclusive group that can say that we completed the inaugural Presidents Challenge.

Come and join us, it’s good for your physical health, mental wellbeing and scone consumption.

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