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  • Writer's picturePhil Packer

Canterbury Christ Church University - A BRIT 2021 Challenge Case Study & Thank you for taking part

We were delighted that Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) and Christ Church Students’ Union united with universities and colleges across the UK to take part in our BRIT 2021 Challenge in order to support and improve student and young adult mental health and fitness, all while raising vital funds for young adult mental mental health charities.

It has been a pleasure to forge a special relationship with CCCU over the past three years and we are sincerely grateful to every student and staff member who has taken part in our annual BRIT Challenges.

Over 44 teams, made up of over 600 students, staff and alumni, took part in the BRIT 2021 Challenge and they completed over 57,000 miles.

Our 2019/20 5-month UK-wide BRIT 2020 Row Britannia Challenge tour (pre-lockdown) enabled us to visit as many UK universities and colleges as possible to forge relationships and meet students and staff. The response was tremendous, however it became clear during the planning stages of the BRIT 2021 Challenge, that many staff had been furloughed, students would not be returning to campuses for the foreseeable future and staff were under immense pressure; mindful of this, our BRIT 2021 Challenge was designed to be more inclusive, and flexible, to enable students and staff to take part wherever they were; at home or on campus.

In December 2020, every university Vice-Chancellor received a personal request to embrace the BRIT 2021 Challenge and share the invitation to take part with their students and staff. In January, our education partners, including Universities UK, National Union of Students (NUS), the Association of Colleges (AoC), Colleges Scotland and Colleges Wales, assisted to promote the BRIT 2021 Challenge. Since the BRIT 2021 Challenge launch in late January, our charity partners have been championing the challenge on their social media platforms and encouraging participation. We have also reached our to every college Principal to request they enter teams and share the opportunity with their staff and students.

We are most grateful to Professor Rama Thirunamachandran, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of CCCU, for all his support to embrace, champion and endorse our BRIT Challenges.

"As a University community we are committed to supporting our students' and staff wellbeing, as well as promoting good mental health.

The last year has shown us that now, more than ever, we need to be together in supporting everyone within our community.

The BRIT Row Britannia Challenge was successful last year in bringing us together, creating awareness of mental health and the support that is available, and we hoped that this year will be no different. All our students and staff were encouraged to take up the BRIT 2021 Challenge, where possible, and unite behind this deserving cause.

Throughout February and March, we took part in the BRIT 2021 Challenge - an incredible collaboration, bringing together universities, colleges, and sporting icons to raise both vital funds and mental health awareness.

The impact that the annual BRIT Challenges have had on our University community have been extraordinary. Last year, over 1000 students, staff and alumni took part; this year, despite COVID-19 restrictions, over 600 students, staff and alumni took part and the challenge undoubtedly improved and supported the mental health and fitness of our students and staff.

We are thrilled that BRIT will be delivering an annual inclusive BRIT Challenge as a February feel-good fundraiser. I am delighted that our University are continuing a special relationship with BRIT and exploring many different ways for our students and staff to be part of the charity’s vision and aims."

Professor Rama Thirunamachandran Vice-Chancellor and Principal

Professor Rama Thirunamachandran

Whilst our BRIT Challenges are designed to support and improve the mental health and fitness of young adults and students, we also hope that our challenges will be embraced by university and college staff to improve and support their health and wellbeing. The key to our BRIT Challenges being successful at any university or college is having someone (staff member or student) who sees the potential in an annual inclusive event that encourages students and staff of all abilities to take part.

Paul Carney, Director of Sport and Active Health, has been integral to CCCU taking on our BRIT Challenges and coordinating student and staff participation. It has been a pleasure to work closely with Paul who understands that our feel-good fundraising challenges can compliment the vital work of universities or colleges to support and improve their student and staff mental health and fitness.

In addition to the super support from James Cook, Marketing and Communications Manager (Sport & Active Health), Paul also recorded a CCCU "Walkie Talkies" podcast with our Founder, Phil, that was shared with students and staff to provide an insight into BRIT's vision and this year's BRIT 2021 Challenge.

“Working with Phil Packer and the British Inspiration Trust has been the perfect opportunity to engage our University community and get our students, staff and alumni a bit more active during this time of social distancing.

I have been overwhelmed by the response; we had no idea that the challenge would resonate to such a degree. We covered more than 57,000 miles in five weeks and raised nearly £4000, and the pictures and stories on social media were just brilliant.

I can’t thank those who took part enough, every mile walked, ran or cycled and every penny donated has gone a long way to raising awareness of this incredibly important cause.”

Paul Carney Director of Sport & Active Health

Paul Carney - Director of Sport & Active Health

Our aspiration is that the British Inspiration Trust (BRIT) is steered and guided by students and staff to ensure that our annual feel-good February BRIT Challenges are part of the university, college and students' union Calendar of Events. In order to increase the number of teams taking part each year, and help to design the BRIT Challenges, our vision is invite students and staff in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and all nine regions of England, to be part of 12 BRIT Steering Groups that will help us to ensure that we develop and grow as a charity.

We believe students and staff should be at the very heart of our charity and sincerely appreciate the support of Becky Thomson, Students' Union President at CCCU, for sharing how the BRIT 2021 Challenge had a positive impact on her mental and physical health.

“During the last year, through several lockdowns, increased workload and personal stresses, my physical wellbeing really took a hit, along with many others. I also felt massively disconnected from the community that had surrounded me for the past five years - my university. Having been used to running races across Kent and playing rugby for the past few years, the lack of team sports and group activities with like-minded people was really taking its toll on my mental health too.

I personally found the BRIT 2021 challenge incredibly rewarding, it got me and my family out of our comfort zones and with the weekly challenges, I even tried new sports such as kayaking, 22 mile night walks, sea swimming (trying that in January is no easy feat) and cycling with a 4 year old to get the miles in for the team!

It was amazing seeing all of the teams in the Uni coming together in friendly competition, chatting on social media and supporting each other throughout the university whilst raising money for a great cause.

It was a personal journey as well as a physical one. Throughout the four weeks, I realised that sport didn’t require a gym, or a pitch. Competition is what you make it and we made it fun but also worthwhile. I have discovered new sports, new places on my back doorstep as well as new friends who share the same interests as me.

Several weeks on, the BRIT 2021 Challenge has kickstarted my year and has renewed my passion for exercise and wellbeing! the BRIT 2021 Challenge has been an incredible experience and one which I would recommend to anyone.”

Becky Thomson Students' Union President

Becky Thomson - Students' Union President

We are also grateful to Juliet Flynn, Organisational and People Development Advisor at CCCU, for sharing the positive impact that the BRIT 2021 Challenge had on her as a member of staff.

“I loved getting involved in the the BRIT 2021 Challenge.

We have all been stuck in our separate homes for so long, it was fantastic to do something together as a whole team and whole University again. Even though we contributed our miles individually we had a common purpose and a team total, which I find much more motivating - I’m not particularly competitive so encouraging everyone to collaborate in support of a great cause ticked boxes for me!

We set up a group chat for our team and regularly updated each other with progress and virtual high fives. In our team we had a mix of cyclists, runners and walkers and it was great that we could all contribute in some way. I loved having a reason to get out of my front door and get active, even in the snow.”

Juliet Flynn

Organisational and People Development Advisor

Juliet Flynn

Over the past two years, over 1600 students and staff at CCCU have taken part in our BRIT Challenges. The support and enthusiasm from CCCU has been extraordinary.

We were delighted that Catherine Spencer (nee Paynter), who was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from CCCU, joined our BRIT Ambassador family this year to help us support and improve young adult mental health throughout the UK.

“As a trainee teacher, and having worked with children and young adults for many years with the RFU and through my charity work, I am very aware of the increase in the number of young adults and students experiencing mental health challenges.

The COVID-19 pandemic is having an impact on all our lives, including the inability for so many students and young adults to play sport, compete and train together. The current situation is having a detrimental effect on young adult mental health in many different ways; many are feeling deeply anxious, have started to self-harm, are having panic attacks, or losing motivation and hope for the future. It is particularly difficult for those young adults who are vulnerable, have limited mobility or who have been bereaved or experienced other trauma during this time.

The British Inspiration Trust’s BRIT 2021 Challenge is an inspiring opportunity to unite students and young adults wherever they are (at home or on campus) and part of a team. To enable as many students of all abilities to be able to participate, we need every UK university, college and students’ union to enter teams and promote the opportunity.

I urge my fellow retired and current England rugby players to join me as BRIT Ambassadors and champion the BRIT 2021 Challenge. By uniting as players, together we can encourage our chosen universities and colleges to take on the BRIT 2021 Challenge and support the mental health and fitness of students and young adults throughout the UK.

Should they enter teams in the BRIT 2021 Challenge, I would be thrilled to support students and staff at the University of Wales, Cardiff. It has been a pleasure to support Christ Church Canterbury University (CCCU) as they have been completing their BRIT 2021 Challenge; many congratulations to everyone at CCCU who took part.”

Catherine Spencer

Former England Women's Rugby Captain

Catherine Spencer

We are thrilled that students and staff are keen for us to deliver a BRIT 2022 Challenge and are excited to be exploring ways in which the university can collaborate with BRIT to enable us to continue to support young adult mental health and fitness throughout the UK.


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