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Nursery practitioner who swam English Channel reveals 'it was lonely in the dark'

Article By: Sue Learner, Editor

Nursery practitioners from Childbase Partnership braved high winds, tides and freezing temperatures in their marathon swim across the English Channel, with one revealing "it was lonely swimming in the dark".

Melissa Hepden, practitioner at Field House Day Nursery

Others swimmers undertaking the same challenge turned back due to the conditions, however the Childbase team swam on through the night cheered on by their chief executive Mike Thompson in a small support boat.

The whole swim which raised over £1,000 for charity took 16 hours and 42 minutes and Mr Thompson called each of the four team members “amazing”.

He said:“I was enormously proud and very emotional as I watched my colleagues battle against the elements. The waves were relentless and despite a big swell working against us, they forged ahead.”

Mr. Thompson, who has himself climbed Kilimanjaro in Africa, run the London and New York Marathons and completed several ‘peak challenges’ in the UK, added: “Their commitment was quite simply remarkable and this is the toughest challenge I have ever witnessed.”

Wracked by seasickness in and out of the boat and buffeted by tides and the wake of large ferries crossing to France, swimmer Melissa Hepden, practitioner at the Ofsted-rated ‘Outstanding’ Field House Day Nursery in Buckingham, joked: “If I felt this sick at work I would be sent home to recover; not encouraged to get back in the sea and swim. This is the hardest challenge and time of my life – I can’t imagine anything ever coming close to this,” she said, describing the effort of crawling on to a French beach and finding the energy to stand up as a surreal and incredibly emotional moment.

Jen Shipton, manager of Greengables Day Nursery in Sandhurst said: “Swimming at night with jelly fish glowing in the dark and appearing to taunt me was undoubtedly the scariest part of the challenge for me. I was genuinely terrified. At the other extreme there was the pure joy of reaching the coast. We all just hugged; drew ‘Childbase 2016’ and all of our names in the sand, and collected a rock as a keepsake to take home.”

Craig Gallagher, Greengables Day nursery chef, an Australian who has completed marathon swims off Bondi Beach and in the Caribbean and has been a UK resident for the past 12 years, said: “Stepping on the French beach I said my late father’s words: “You little ripper”. It was a weird feeling to know that we had actually done it. In those first 10 minutes I experienced every possible emotion from excitement to profound relief.”

The worst part of the ordeal according to Vicki Saunders, Childbase quality and training advisor, was an eight hour period when it felt like little headway was being made and rest periods saw everybody sitting on the floor of the boat due to the height of the waves.

“The waves were unbelievable when we were crouching in the boat but something else entirely when we were swimming. It was like hitting a brick wall as they crashed against us,” she said.

She added: “Swimming in the dark was very lonely especially as other team mates were trying to get some sleep before their next swim but I knew Mike and Kim had eyes on me at all times and that was comforting. They didn't sleep a wink all night.”

Training in the sea and local lakes throughout the winter in preparation for the challenge, the team is raising cash for the Children’s Air Ambulance which has been adopted in all 44 nurseries and at head office for a year-long fund-raising drive.

The Charity has just one helicopter providing rapid response times to trauma and medical emergencies, for children and babies throughout the UK and is funded entirely by donations.

You can add your support by visiting

click here for more details or to contact Childbase Partnership


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