Deborah’s Inspiring Epic Charity Adventure

If you’ve been putting off a big challenge recently, then Deborah Vogwell’s story will hopefully inspire you to take the first step.

Deborah had always wanted to take on some sort of physical challenge, like walking, cycling, or even paddle boarding a long distance for charity. But as with most of us, day to day life got in the way and she never quite seemed to get round to it. As time went by, Deborah began to come up with reasons to avoid making this challenge a reality. Doubts began to creep in about whether she was capable of such a physical challenge. She also wondered whether all the planning and training required would be worth it.

Taking the first step

Things changed when staff at Homes England, where Deborah works as Head of Development Transformation, chose Groundwork as their charity of the year. When everyone was asked if they’d like to do something to raise money, Deborah decided that she wanted to paddleboard the 127 miles via canal between their offices in Leeds and Liverpool. Having announced this to colleagues, suddenly there was no turning back and so began months of planning, training and fundraising.

In March 2023, Deborah finally completed her challenge. Over 10 days she paddled 127 miles via canal and so far she has raised nearly £1800 for Groundwork.

Deborah recently spoke about the many challenges she faced along the way, from tiredness, foul weather and a mile long tunnel, to being confronted by hostile swans at various points along the route.

Deborah takes up the story

I’ve paddleboarded on and off for years but decided to buy a board of my own during lockdown. When the opportunity recently came along to do something for Groundwork I decided it was a case of now or never.”

If I hadn’t been doing it for Groundwork, I probably would have backed out.

The route

The route took quite a lot of planning and took me from Leeds through Skipton, Burnley and Wigan, before finally arriving in Liverpool.

It included lots of areas in Yorkshire and Lancashire that I’d never been to before. Both the landscape and the accents changed constantly, which I found fascinating. I stopped and chatted with lots of people along the way which was lovely. Word seemed to have spread about my challenge on local canals and rivers Facebook pages, so a lot of people seemed to know who I was and what I was doing. They were really supportive and their encouragement helped to keep me going.

Biggest challenge

There were quite a few challenges, but the biggest was probably the route planning and how to get around the locks. The weather was worse than I expected at times, with high winds and plenty of rain.


I think the highlight was going through the Foulridge tunnel, which is almost a mile long in complete darkness. I did think about missing that part out, but I spoke to a local canal boatowner who reassured me I would be OK. I am so glad I did it. Luckily, I had a really good headtorch and I paddled quite fast to get through it.

Low point

On around day 3 or 4 it rained all day and I encountered about 9 angry swans, which meant I had to get off the board and walk around them.

What I’ve learned

You learn a fair bit about yourself when you spend time on your own in the middle of the canal.

I’ve learned that I don’t give up easily, and this has given me a lot of confidence.

Why Groundwork?

What I like about Groundwork is that it’s a really practical charity. It carries out lots of projects that help people and communities across the country and delivers them in an environmentally  sustainable way. That’s what really appeals to me.

What next?

I really enjoyed the whole thing, the planning, the sense of achievement and being able to do something good to help a charity like Groundwork. I think it may given me an appetite to do another challenge at some point in the future.

I’ve met a lot of people and I’ve been amazed by the support I’ve received along the journey. I’d encourage anyone thinking about doing a challenge like this to just have a go.

Hopefully Groundwork will benefit from the money raised, but I’ve benefitted too. So in that sense everybody wins.

Get Involved

You can still donate to Deborah’s cause by clicking the link below: