Running home for Christmas - Farmer's 120km mental health challenge

Norfolk farmer Stuart Alexander holding his wellies and running shoes

Norfolk farm adviser Stuart Alexander is running 5km every day from December 1 until Christmas Eve to raise money for mental health charity YANA - Credit: Sarah Alexander

A Norfolk farm adviser has swapped his wellies for trainers for a pre-Christmas running challenge to raise vital funds for a rural mental health charity.

Stuart Alexander and his 14-year-old nephew Tom are running 5km every day from December 1 until Christmas Eve to raise money for Norfolk-based mental health charity YANA (You Are Not Alone), which provides confidential  counselling for people involved in farming and countryside communities.

Stuart Alexander and his nephew Tom

Stuart Alexander and his nephew Tom are running 120km during December to raise money for farming mental health charity YANA (You Are Not Alone) - Credit: Sarah Alexander

Mr Alexander, 42, said the charity had recently been a valuable source of support to someone close to the family, and his conversations with farmers across the region in recent months had also underlined the particular pressures created by weather difficulties, Brexit uncertainties and the isolating effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

His 120km challenge is the equivalent distance to his home in Pulham Market from his office in Sandy in Bedfordshire, where he works as a regional business development manager for SOYL, the precision farming division of Frontier Agriculture.

And he hopes by "running home for Christmas" he can help YANA continue its important work.

"You don't have to scratch too deeply into a lot of farms at the moment to see there are quite a lot of dark thoughts," he said.

"We have had two of the wettest autumns on record, there is all the uncertainty about Brexit and farm payments, and then a global pandemic with no shows or social events. There is so much change going on and it is all uncharted waters. I think YANA is the safety net."

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This week, the fundraising total passed a £2,000 milestone - which YANA said would pay for 50 hours of counselling, enough to support at least eight people.

Mr Alexander added: "When the alarm goes off at 6am to go running, you say to yourself: 'Really?' But then you see the sponsorship coming in and you realise you have to keep going. 

"If we can put someone back on the rails, help them think straight and put them in a better place, that is quite a nice feeling.

"I'm not built for running, but physically I feel good so far. Running on your own is difficult, especially when it is minus 3C and you get halfway down the road you feel like your lungs are about to collapse - so I'm glad to have Tom alongside me."

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