Project Challenge celebrates 20 years: ‘I wouldn’t be where I am without them’

THE legacy of Project Challenge lives on through the graduates, the 150 who have given blood, sweat and tears to get up and down mountains across the UK and Europe.

Graduates are often so affected by the life-changing skills they learn while on the expedition, they are still responsible for the recruitment, with many passing on to others what a difference it has made to them.

The team say when a graduate walks in and is introduced to the current group, silence falls, the bravado is gone and an unspoken respect emerges.

Few have had such a tranformation as Steve Mason.

He took part in Project Challenge in 1998 after being recruited by another graduate when his group travelled to Andorra.

From a disillusioned teen with no life plans, Steve is now international mountain leader, lifeguard and climbing instructor - all skills which he found, and built on through Project Challenge.

“At the time I signed up I wasn’t really doing anything. I didn’t have family or anybody to help me,” he said. “The outdoor side of it really interested me,” he said, “but I wasn’t going anywhere fast.”

“The mental journey was the toughest. The young people who go on Project Challenge don’t start off from a level playing field. They start off from pretty far down and they have a huge obstacles just to get level with everybody else.”

“They push you out of your comfort zone. For me it was life-changing. It was unbelievable,” said Steve.

“Project Challenge becomes your family,” said Steve. Operations Manager Pete Dawber became such a good friend he was best man at Steve’s wedding.

“I never thought I’d be where I am now,” he said.

Susan Wright completed the 2005 trek to Norway. She was referred through the Connexions office shortly after moving to Halifax.

“I was nervous about it because I didn’t really know anyone in Halifax so didn’t know what to expect.”

Susan had no plans. She had run away from home and didn’t know where she’d turn.

Her group of five graduates called themselves the Ski-eeters.

“They’re just like a little family. They’re always there to listen to you, I still volunteer now and help them.”

She now has a settled life and works for Pennine Housing. “It helped me think differently about my life. Through challenging yourself you learn that you can do new things and you can do something different.”

If you meet any of the graduates you can’t help but be impressed.

For a group who months before had never met and did not know each other, their shared growth, bond and knowledge are nothing short of inspiring.

Each year, a presentation evening is held to recognise the efforts of the Project Challenge group.

This year Tyron Burnett, one of the true characters of Project Challenge, told a packed room at The Shay how life-changing his experience had been.

Aged 22, from Sowerby Bridge, he completed the 2006 trip to the Pyrenees.

“I didn’t know what direction I was going in but I was mainly doing bits and bobs and volunteering.”

“It gave me skills like communicating with others and feeling good about myself.” After finishing Tyron went on to Keighley College to get qualifications in motor vehicle training and then he decided to spend six months volunteering with Boothtown Rascals. He now works in the Eureka nursery.

But one thing is clear to Tyron.

“If I hadn’t done Project Challenge I wouldn’t have been where I am now. Project Challenge gave me the push that I needed. I didn’t know which way to turn, and here I am now.”

And to remind himself, he got a permanent reminder tattooed onto his leg. “It’s just to show how far I’ve come. I was trying to think of something different to do to recognise it.” His tattoo now reads “All hail and no shine 06 Pyrenees”.

Over the years, six people have gone back to work with the charity, showing it can not only teach skills but give the graduates something they want to work for and pay something back.

But for some their demons can’t be beaten, and the hardest part for any of the staff is the three graduates who have lost their lives in the days after they completed the course.

The work of this inspiring charity will continue to make a massive difference.