“When life throws challenges and obstacles your way, you have 2 choices; Look for ways to overcome them, or let them define you in a negative way.”
In November 2020, 8 months into a Global pandemic and at a time when our national health and support services had never been more challenged, Mike Jennings (class of 2002) embarked on a mission to provide support to those who need help with their mental health, but are unable to access it through the NHS.
Mike has a successful, award winning career in operational and change management, specialising in consultancy, business finance and risk management. He is currently Vice President of Operations at FLEETCOR, a global business payments company. It would be fair to say he works in a fast paced and sometimes stressful environment. He is passionate about mental wellbeing and with mental health suffering on the rise and his own personal experience to draw on, he combined his love of the great outdoors with his determination to raise awareness, and money to set up the ‘Hike with Mike Foundation.
The first event was attended by 66 eager hikers, raising nearly £3000 for the mental health charity Mind.
“Every day in the UK, 18 people choose to take their own life. That’s 18 people who feel their only option is to no longer carry on living. Sadly, for myself, this is a statistic all too close to home. In recent years, I’ve lost 2 close friends to suicide. Unbeknown to me, behind their laughter, Instagram photos, and what looked at face value to be perfect lives, there were demons we never knew existed.
I later found out that one friend had been seeking help. He was on a 3 months waiting list for NHS counselling support. Sadly it was too long.”
The more research Mike did, the more prevalent he realised the issue was. He discovered that around one in four of us experience battles with mental illness in our lifetime and although not everyone considers suicide, it was clear to Mike that more needed to be done to break down the stigmas surrounding mental illness. “If someone has a broken arm or leg, they wouldn’t think twice about seeking help, but mental illness can be invisible and so many suffer in silence.”
With this in mind, Mike wanted to make a positive difference. “I have always been a huge fan of the outdoors and firmly believe that being active is a great way of managing your own mental wellbeing.”
Supported by his friends and family, The Hike With Mike Foundation was created with the intention to organise a number of walks and hikes throughout the year, where anyone can sign up and pay a small fee to join in. “All the money raised goes into a central fund which then gives immediate help to those who need support, but who are unable to access via the NHS at the time it is needed.”
“Starting a hiking charity in the middle of a pandemic was never going to be easy, particularly when the very thing we were trying to do was largely forbidden! But our passion towards suicide prevention is bigger than any obstacle, and we found ways to evolve, adapt, and ensure that despite the challenges, we continued to battle to raise funds and break down the negative stigmas surrounding mental wellbeing.”
“We typically go to the Peak District. It’s a great way to get fit, meet new people, and also improve your own mental well-being! For those who receive our grants, it can be a lifeline, or a chance to get the help that they so desperately need!”
Since launching, over £7000 has been raised, which means the Hike with Mike Foundation can now formally register with the Charity Commission!
Momentum is continuing to pick up; the Foundation has recently been endorsed by The North Face, who made a large donation of stock. Mike has featured on BBC news and a huge following has been amassed, including several celebrities such as Paddy Doherty, Ed Sheeran and Duncan James!
“We’re always looking for volunteers so if you’d like to help then please do shout up! Every little bit of support helps and, it really may help save a life!”