When we launched our first bespoke overseas challenge only two months ago, myself and the rest of the St Wilfrid's fundraising team never imagined we would be so overwhelmed with supporters who were so eager to sign up to trek the Sahara Desert!

We were so overwhelmed that we actually had to split away from St Michael's Hospice (Hastings and Rother) - with whom we had originally joined forces to fill 30 places (15 supporters each) - because both hospices had doubled the number of participants required to make the trip possible, which is amazing for hospice fundraising all round. 

As a Community Fundraiser who has supported many people through various challenges, I was so keen to get an overseas challenge into our events portfolio. This was something we first started thinking about and planning a year and half before we revealed the 'Trek Sahara' challenge to our community of supporters in September this year.

Together with fundraisers from St Michael's Hospice, we held an Information Evening at the Cooden Beach Hotel. Many people attended to learn more about this exciting fundraising adventure from the experienced tour company leading this trip: The Different Travel Company.

By the end of the evening we had 16 people signed up - too many for the trip that we had planned with St Michael's - and over the next few days the registration forms from excited supporters just kept on coming. Eight days later we had 30 trekkers, as did St Michael's Hospice, so we made a joint decision to go it alone with our own hospice supporters, on two separate trips.

On November 14th 2019, a group of 33 St Wilfrid's supporters plus myself (a Community Fundraiser) will be getting on a plane and flying to Marrakech, Morocco, where this challenge begins. Awaiting us will be three days of trekking the Sahara Desert in up to 40-degree heat and walking up to 20km a day over this diverse landscape of ancient dried-up river beds, sand dunes and vast sun-baked plains, before camping out under the stars each night.

To take part in this challenge, each individual needs to raise £1,500, of which approximately two thirds will be funds raised to support hospice care and roughly one third covers the costs of taking on this challenge. 

Enthusiastic to start fundraising and eager to meet their fellow trekkers, our team gathered for the first time on Wednesday 14th November - exactly one year to the day that the challenge is due to begin.

We got creative and transformed our Education Rooms at the hospice into a colourful 'Cave of Wonders' reminiscent of a Moroccan boudoir and welcomed (almost) all of our Saharan trekkers to meet each for the first time.

(For this it was extremely handy having a large St Wilfrid's donation centre at our fingertips - our very own 'cave of wonders' from which to borrow beautiful items from to decorate the rooms)!

The meeting was very special and definitely left people feeling as though it had all become very real. We popped champagne (well, prosecco) and toasted to the next year of planning, training, getting to know each other and, most importantly, fundraising to support more hospice care.  

I tested everyone's knowledge of Morocco and sussed out who are the competitive ones in the group, with a quiz about the country we'll be travelling to. Each trekker had their picture taken behind our wonderful Moroccan-esque backdrop, and we even had specially-made #TeamSahara cupcakes to give to everyone as a little welcome and thank-you gift - they tasted as good as they looked! 

But my favourite part of the evening was when we went round the room and each person took their turn to introduce themselves to their fellow trekkers, and to explain the reasons why they had signed up to the challenge. 

The room fell silent for about 20 minutes apart from the voice of each person as they spoke. Sometimes there was the odd roar of laughter or the sound of deep comforting sighs, as everyone listened intently to one another's stories. 

We learned that some people are taking this on as personal challenge: to overcome fear, to get fit or to celebrate a milestone birthday. Many of the group work or volunteer at the hospice in various roles, both in clinical and non-clinical settings (I personally am rather grateful to have five nurses travelling in the group with us). Some have been supporters of the hospice for many years and some are newer supporters; some are travelling in pairs of friends or family and some have joined the team 'solo' - but soon no-one will be a stranger and lifelong friendships will be made. 

Many people told stories of losing loved ones and wanting to take on this daunting challenge to honour and remember them. Overwhelmingly, the resounding answer to the question 'why did you sign up to this challenge?' was that everyone wanted to do something big to raise money so that more and more people in our community are able to benefit from the care provided by our hospice's wonderful clinical teams.

The group is diverse, with people from a variety of backgrounds. Some are in their twenties, some in their sixties - and many from all ages in between. Some people already feel fit and ready for those sandy miles, whilst others have a bit more training ahead of them. But most importantly the camaraderie in the groups is shared by all - precisely what is needed when embarking on a bucket-list fundraising adventure together!

Please come back to the blog for more updates on how our Saharan superheroes are getting on with their fundraising and their training. I'll be updating you throughout the year!