On Saturday 17th June, I joined twenty-eight of my work mates for a walk. The event was a company-sponsored one, in aid of The Society of St James - a homeless charity that Benefex are supporting this year.
We started Friday afternoon, loading a coach with supplies: tents, sleeping bags, cool-boxes, food stuffs, camping stoves, pillows, barbecues, camp chairs and backpacks in all manner of shapes and sizes. Finally, we ourselves were loaded on too - headed to Crickhowell, where a campsite would be our home for the next two nights.
Work mates are funny things. I don't think I've ever actively chosen friends: indeed, I don't think anyone does - rather, schools, universities and workplaces bring people together. From that melting pot, you either click or you don't; but with work mates, the persona at work may be very different from that away from the office. Fortunately, my work mates are good people; I've worked at places where that hasn't always been the case, but we all came together well (after tents were up and the food was cooking on stoves and barbecues.)
Being able to rely on a colleague is important when you're off for a stroll around the Brecon Beacons. It can be a hard hike, depending upon the weather and even in the nicest of conditions, the four peaks of Corn Du, Pen y Fan, Cribyn and Fan y Big are a challenge to many. Steep ascents and long winding paths down the other side as you follow the ridgeline between the peaks strain your legs, and you discover muscles you didn't realise you had. In wet weather, the path can be slippery, and often cloud obscures the marvellous views along the way - we however were graced with blue skies and a baking hot sun, which can bring its own problems.
Sunburn and overheating is a real risk and walking out in the heat of the day is an endeavour for “mad dogs and Englishmen”, as the saying goes; but it's through the help of others on the trip we were all able to make it.
We stopped at various points along the way; the top of each peak and at the end of any particularly arduous stretch. At each stop, colleagues would share around snacks, sunscreen or water; I'd myself brought along rehydration salts and these proved invaluable to some who'd suffered water loss through sweat under the hot sun.
As we moved on towards the next rest point, we'd do so spread out in groups of endurance; some powering to the front, others more slowly bringing up the rear. But nobody walked alone; we supported one another along the path, (indeed, physically in some cases; with a weakened ankle, we’d hardly leave our colleague to fend for herself) down steep footpaths comprised of randomly-sized and oddly-placed rocks.
The walk was a corporate event and, of course, we posed at the top of Pen Y Fan for an obligatory team photograph; yes, we look exhausted and warm, but the photo truly does encompass the values that Benefex promotes internally.
“Cornerstones” of how employees intend to work with one another can often be a box-ticking exercise for companies: something to sell their value to clients or prospects. However, our ideals of being unstoppable by achieving together, of being all about people, of how it can be great if we all play our part when it comes to achieving our goals, really shone through in a walk like this. In planning on the lead-up to the walk, at rest at the campsite before and after, and during the walk itself, we came together to achieve - and in embodying those values, succeeded as a result.
I did a lot of practice walks before this, to ensure I had the stamina to complete it. For the weekends before, I'd cover anywhere from ten to nearly twenty miles in a Saturday and through that, saw many areas near my home I never knew existed. I had an opportunity through that to think, to appreciate the nature all around me and to improve myself. However, although walking alone is fine, it's oh so much better when it's with good company who can support you along the way.
It's also enhanced my appreciation of the world outside my door. Too many times we jump in a car to go to the shops or to work, but don't see the world between A and B. We think we need to travel far away to see something special: but in reality, we can find something unique to engage us on our very doorsteps. I work in IT, but as with many in office-based jobs, it's really important to disconnect from the man-made and immerse yourself in the natural world around us. Opportunities like our Brecon Beacons challenge don't come along every day, but when they do; take them!
Paul is our Release & Support Manager here at Benefex. His knees have just about recovered from the trek.
If you would like to sponsor Team Benefex in aid of The Society of St James, you can do so here.