In December, eight intrepid Simply Business staff headed for the Swedish Arctic Circle for a three day challenge raising over 20k for Save the Children.
They tumbled off sleds, surprised a moose and aced a quiz with a husky sled race and a 25km cross-country ski in between.
Mark Harris, assistant product manager at Simply Business, describes landing in Sweden on a runway caked in snow: “As we got off the plane we got our first glimpse of how much snow there really was. It was thigh deep in places; an incredible sight.”
After spending the night in Lapland town Kiruna, the two Simply Business teams met with the six other teams taking part in the Arctic Challenge for the husky-drawn sled ride through the forest to their base camp.
Simply Business CFO Neil Edwards describes the magical ride: “One moment there were 120 very excitable dogs yelping and barking in the darkness. The next there was the sound of silence only broken by the swishing of the sled through the snow.”
Base camp had limited facilities but was full of charm. With no electricity or running water, the cabin was kept cosy with log fires and candles. Before bed, the group wandered outside to look at the night sky.
Mark describes what they saw: “The stars were something else. A canvas of hundreds and hundreds of twinkling lights.
As we stood on the lake taking in the beauty, we could see some headlights in the distance that seemed to get brighter and brighter. We soon realised that it wasn’t headlights at all: it was the magnificence of the Northern Lights, providing us with a performance that I will never forget.”
The next day, still reeling from the wonder of the Northern Lights, the teams faced their first challenges.
Taking a wrong turn in the initial orienteering task saw one group wading uphill through knee-deep snow and coming face-to-face with a moose. Harriett Aisthorpe, who works in CSR and engagement at Simply Business, describes her experience:
“I’d dressed over-cautiously, so I had two more layers than I really needed, but the term ‘hot and bothered’ didn’t really apply, as it was so cold that any perspiration froze as soon as it touched the Arctic air. My eyelashes were quickly coated with layers of snow.”
Later, during the 35km husky sled race, Simply Business dialler manager Matt Dunlop was thrown off into a ditch, but bravely dusted himself off and climbed back onto his sled to finish the race.
Exhausted but exhilarated, the teams returned to base camp. Simply Business programme director Ian Jones remembers that evening fondly:
“We were all laughing and reflecting on the challenges of the day as we ate dinner in a dimly-lit cabin in the middle of nowhere, with a background symphony of howling huskies!”
The next morning, the group rose to their biggest challenge yet: a 25km cross country ski. Mark faced the task with some trepidation, having never been on skis before, but the experience was revelatory:
“I quickly became a master of gliding – and falling! We skated across thin ice and thick ice, through deep snow, forests and hills.”
Mark’s team crossed the finish line in fourth place after five hours, while the second Simply Business team took a further hour and 20 minutes. Team member Neil Richards, part of the underwriting department back in London, says that finally crossing the finish line after six and a half hours of physical and mental challenges was “the best experience, in an incredible trip full of once-in-a-lifetime experiences.”
Although the Simply Business teams hadn’t garnered many points in the cross-country challenges, they’d tackled each event with strength and determination. They were also about to flex their trivia muscles: the final event was a Sweden-themed quiz, and team members Matt Dunlop and Neil Edwards had been revising. Racing through the questions, the team finished with a perfect score.
They’d ended on a high and had also confirmed, perhaps, that our insurance heroes are more brain than brawn…
Reflecting on the trip as a whole, Matt Dunlop said:
“The Arctic is the most picturesque, stunning place I’ve ever been, and taking part in the challenge was an amazing experience. It was the first time I’d done something like this, but I can’t wait to do more in the future. I’ve been left with a hunger to find more adventures and take part in other challenges.” Harriett also found the trip life-changing: “It’s not often you get the chance to go outside of your comfort zone and experience that much, while being able to make a real impact on the lives of the next generation.”
The adventurers returned to work with bruises and tired muscles, but they also brought back incredible memories and the knowledge that they’d raised a staggering £20,801 for Save the Children.
With Simply Business covering the cost of the trip, all money raised by the team went directly to the charity, which is currently supporting young people who have fled the conflict in Syria.
Arctic challenger and Simply Business principal developer Peter Vandenberk explained that the choice of Save the Children wasn’t a difficult one: “The migrant crisis taking place all over Europe at the moment is devastating, and there are more displaced vulnerable young people needing our help than ever right now.”
To raise as much money as possible for their cause before they left for the Arctic, the group had run sweepstakes, a promise auction and a 12 hour cross-trainer event, as well as shaking charity collection buckets at Northampton and London train stations.
The promise auction was a huge hit, and also highlighted the diverse talents of the Simply Business staff. With everything from skateboarding lessons to handmade origami cranes up for grabs, colleagues’ bids raked in almost £3,500 in a single evening.
Accepting the donation, Save the Children said:
“All your hard work means that we can be there for vulnerable children in the UK and across the world who need our help when emergencies strike, to fight for their rights and enable them to achieve their aspirations.”
We believe it’s our job (individually and as a company) to look out for and strengthen the world in which we operate. That goes for communities and environments, both social and ecological. Our new charity partner is Whizz-Kidz, and we’re aiming to raise over £150k over the next three years to support their work with disabled children. For more information, please visit our charity page.
If you like the sound of the way we do things, check out our careers page to find out more about working for Simply Business. An opportunity to participate in the Arctic Challenge is just one of many great things about working here, as our first place position in the 2015 ‘Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to work for’ list demonstrates.
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