The very first Howard’s Way walk took place in April 2008 to raise funds for the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, and was led by Howard Kerr himself, in defiance of being diagnosed with the disease. He died just four months later. No-one could have known – not Howard, nor his wife Jane and her brother Nick Grecian who’ve organised the walks since – that it would grow into one of the fundraising highlights of the whole events industry calendar.
Since 2008, the Howard’s Way walkers have trekked more than 600 miles in long distance walks over some of the UK’s most beautiful landscapes, raising over £300,000 in honour of Howard and to fundraise for research into the cancer that took his life.
The 2015 walk tomorrow is taking an urban twist. Simon Burton, a friend of Nick and Jane’s, suggested that a less rural setting would allow even more people to join the walk. As an events PR, Simon also agreed with Arsenal FC – a client of his, whose own events team had lost a colleague to pancreatic cancer – to host walkers after their 10 mile walk through London, with the Emirates Stadium providing the final destination. The idea evolved and soon local rivals Chelsea FC agreed to host the start of the inaugural urban Howard’s Way walk, with staff from both clubs taking part too.
By chance, Chelsea’s participation is also entirely fitting and poignant for me personally. My husband Alan, whose death from pancreatic cancer in 2003 is the reason I set up the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, was a huge Chelsea fan all his life. A season ticket holder, he went to matches religiously, travelling far afield to watch their highs and lows. And forever the romantic, he took me to my first ever football match at Stamford Bridge as part of our courtship. I still have the programme.
I don’t remember much about that match, other than the humorous comments from the crowd and the almost deafening swells of noise from around the stadium, but I felt the intensity of camaraderie among the teams’ supporters – strangers are like family for that 90 minutes – and even just seeing someone wear your team’s scarf outside the stadium creates a connection. This automatic connection, when investing time, energy and a great deal of emotion for a common cause resonates with me. I see it at PCRF events when our supporters immediately bond with each other, though strangers, because they share a common loss of a loved one to pancreatic cancer.
I’m hugely grateful to both Arsenal and Chelsea FC for their support with this 2015 event. The money raised will go to fund exciting research projects carried out by truly dedicated researchers who want to find and develop new treatments as much as we do. Although I’ve observed Chelsea’s ups and downs over the years, Friday will be the first time I’ve been back to Stamford Bridge since Alan died. I won’t be able to join in the walk as I’ve got a typical footballers’ injury myself – a strained Achilles tendon caused by training too hard for a 10k event, but I will be there to cheer everyone on – and even louder than I did at my first football match!
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