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  • Writer's picturePhil Packer

University of Essex - A BRIT 2021 Challenge Case Study & Thank you for taking part

We were delighted that the University of Essex and the University of Essex 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.

27 teams, including Student Clubs and Societies, groups of friends, university departments and the professional services on campus, took part in the BRIT 2021 Challenge and together they completed 23,913 miles. 326 students, members of staff and alumni participated.

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; it was a pleasure to be hosted by the University of Essex and we were thrilled that they entered a team in the BRIT 2020 Challenge.

The response from universities and colleges to the BRIT 2020 Challenge was tremendous and almost 100 institutions took part, 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, the 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 out to every college Principal to request they enter teams and share the opportunity with their staff and students.

We are most grateful to Professor Anthony Forster, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Essex, for all his support to embrace and champion our BRIT Challenges.

“I’m so inspired to see the impact of the BRIT 2021 Challenge and how our community has shown true Essex Spirit to rise to the challenge. Across 27 teams, 326 participants from the University have covered well over 21,000 miles between them - raising hundreds of pounds for student mental health charities.

Student clubs and societies, departments, professionals services staff and the Students’ Union have all worked together to go well beyond our original target distance. This was helped by a little bit of friendly rivalry and extra support from four BRIT Ambassadors – Essex Honorary Graduates Danny Crates and Rosie Stancer FRGS and Essex-based champion rally driver Nabila Tejpar and six time Blind Racing World Champion Lucy Hodges MBE.

We know how important physical activity is to our physical and mental health. I hope the BRIT 2021 Challenge will inspire everyone who took part to stay active.”

Professor Anthony Forster


Professor Anthony Forster - Vice-Chancellor of the University of Essex

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.

We were thrilled that four of our BRIT Ambassadors supported the BRIT 2021 Challenge at the University of Essex and encouraged students and staff to participate.

Danny Crates - Paralympic, World and European Champion and BRIT Ambassador

Danny Crates is a British former athlete who specialised in the 400 and 800 metres. He is a former Paralympic World Record holder and won gold at the Paralympic Games, World Championships and European Championships.

Danny was delighted to support students and staff at the University of Essex and the University of East London.

Lucy Hodges MBE - Six time Blind Racing World Champion & Commodore of Blind Sailing UK

Lucy Hodges MBE is an award-winning world champion sailor, mentor and disability sports ambassador. She is one of the UK’s most successful disabled sailors and is a three time Blind Match Racing World Champion and three time World Blind Fleet Racing Champion.

Lucy was thrilled to support students and staff at the University of Essex, and colleges throughout Essex, as a BRIT Ambassador, in order to encourage participation in the BRIT 2021 Challenge.

Rosie Stancer FRGS - British Explorer, Polar Adventurer and BRIT Ambassador

Rosie Stancer FRGS is a record-breaking explorer and polar athlete and adventurer who has hauled herself solo to the North and South Poles. Rosie has also crossed Lake Baikal, solo, unsupported; her total mileage over 700 km was completed in 21 days, without resupplies. Every one of her expeditions has been in aid of a chosen charity including St John’s Ambulance, Special Olympics GB and Veterans Aid. Rosie has gathered both meteorological and physiological data which has been published as a scientific document on sports performance and is involved in research at the University of Essex School of Biological Sciences – Centre for Sports and Exercise Science; monitoring psychological states and coping strategies before, during and after Rosie’s expeditions. Rosie is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Vice President of the Scientific Exploration Society (SES) and an Honorary Board Member for Special Olympics GB.

Rosie was delighted to support students and staff at the University of Essex.

Nabila Tejpar - British Rally Championship (BRC) Ladies Champion

Nabila Tejpar became the BRC ladies Champion in 2017 and came second in the European Rally Championship Ladies Trophy in 2019.

Nabila was thrilled to support students and staff at the University of Essex.

The key to our BRIT Challenges being successful at any university or college is having students and staff who see the potential in an annual inclusive event that encourages students and staff of all abilities to take part.

Dr Dave Parry, Director of Sport, and his team, have been integral to the University of Essex taking on our BRIT Challenges and coordinating student and staff participation.

It has been a pleasure to work closely with Dave, and Liam McDougall, Sport Development Officer, who understand 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.

“The BRIT 2021 Challenge was a very enjoyable and beneficial activity for us. We were able to engage a large number of students and staff, encouraging them to get active during challenging times due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

I am sure that our campaign to encourage our community to take part will have been a nudge to many to get active, and we hope to be able to utilise a similar approach in future to embed an active lifestyle within our whole University community.

We’re also very pleased to have been able to raise money to support the very important work of charities that support young people experiencing mental health challenges. We’re now very much looking forward to the BRIT 2022 Challenge which we’re sure will be even bigger and better!”

Dr Dave Parry

Director of Sport

Dr Dave Parry - Director of Sport at the University of Essex

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 every 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.

Family members from the University of Essex taking on the BRIT 2021 Challenge

We believe students and staff should be at the very heart of our charity and sincerely appreciate the support of the University of Essex Students' Union for all their enthusiasm to promote the BRIT 2021 Challenge in order to have a positive impact on improving student mental health and fitness.

“This has been a tough year for all students. The lockdowns have negatively impacted their mental and physical health. For our Blades Sports Clubs, not having training and competition has been a real loss on top of this.

Having the BRIT 2021 Challenge has been a fantastic opportunity to reintroduce elements of competition and a chance for clubs to be active together as a community, all while raising awareness and fundraising for key charities.

Congratulations to all involved this year, and I look forward to being involved next year for the BRIT 2022 Challenge!”

Olivia (Liv) Matthews

Vice President Student Experience

University of Essex Students' Union

Liv Matthews - Vice President Student Experience

We are sincerely grateful to Liam McDougall, Sport Development Officer at Essex Sport, University of Essex, for sharing how the university took on the BRIT 2021 Challenge to benefit other universities and colleges taking on our BRIT Challenges;

  • It helped us develop and improve various different sub-projects, so that will only help us continue to deliver to a high standard and support the university family as much as possible (i.e. we developed a buddy walk system that really complimented the challenge and also helped develop our social media presence).

  • Engagement was really positive and we reached a lot of departments, clubs and societies we wouldn’t normally interact with, and it was great seeing people dive into the challenge.

  • Once we had the basic structure set up for submissions and worked out the email comms template, social media templates, etc. delivery was really easy which definitely helped too and allowed us to dedicate time to highlight the message of BRIT, their partner charities and how easy it is to get involved in the challenge!

  • Team applications opened 3 weeks before the start.

  • Communication and marketing was aimed at all clubs and societies, the Students' Union, all departments and campus services. This was aided by a top-down approach with university management helping to promote and encourage everyone.

  • Social media marketing focused on explaining the challenge as simply as possible and promoting the causes the challenge supports – placing focus on the benefits to students and promoting the idea of students helping students.

  • Social media marketing was focused on highlight the challenge as a ‘fun activity’ rather than it being a competition.

  • Each team was required to nominate a captain and they acted as the focal point for us communicating with individual participants. We communicated the rules to captains and provided them with resources to help motivate, encourage and communicate with their teams, as well as provide them with tools to keep track of their teams miles.

  • When the challenge started social media shifted focus to encouraging people to move and showing people how to record/submit their miles.

  • All submissions were done via a simple jot form document; participants could either submit after each activity or at the end of the week and it also allowed people to back date entries.

  • After submission people were directed to our Virgin Money Giving page.

  • Captains received an email after each person in their team submitted – this allowed them to help keep track of who was doing what if they wanted to run internal competitions or challenges as a team.

  • Each week we communicated via email to team captains (giving a heads up of the next week) and to all participants (summarising up to this point in the challenge and highlighting individual efforts, stories or winners of weekly challenges).

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.

Thank you to every student, staff member and alumni at the University of Essex for taking part in the BRIT 2021 Challenge.


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