Stuck to your sofa during lockdown? UK anti-trafficking charity City Hearts based right here in Sheffield is inviting everyone to step from sofa to the summit of Kilimanjaro, to raise vital funds for practical items needed by survivors rescued from modern day slavery.

At 5895 metres, Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa. On the 19th of April, City Hearts’ supporters will be embarking on a two-week virtual journey of 103,488 steps to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Funds raised will provide practical items most of us take for granted like pyjamas, bedding, lamps and toiletries. For those moving into their own homes, basic furnishings such as beds and mattresses, a fridge and microwave are needed. The climb will enable staff to provide these items to survivors of slavery and those seeking a crime-free future, by establishing a vital new Restoration Hub.

Linda’s story

Linda Walmsley is a health and wellbeing facilitator for survivors at City Hearts who – having struggled with her own mental health during lockdown – has embraced running to beat the blues.

Linda, who is currently working from home in Hoyland Common Barnsley is 39 and lives with her three children Callum 19, Jasmine 16 and Jada 6.

Linda explains: “I returned to education later in life to study Education, Childhood and Culture at the University of Sheffield. I became a mature student ambassador and the first-ever student to have a work placement at City Hearts. When I graduated three years ago, I continued volunteering at the charity alongside my job as a temporary supply teacher.  Just before the first lockdown, the health and wellbeing coordinator encouraged me to apply for a role at City Hearts. I was thrilled to be successful, but had to delay my start until July because of the pandemic.”

So many people’s mental health has been affected by lockdown, it is unsurprising that those who have already been held captive against their will became even more traumatised when they could not leave their safe houses.

“I see every day how my role really makes a difference”, smiles Linda. “Even something as simple as going for a walk with a client increases their wellbeing- and helps me too! The isolation of some clients caused them to have suicidal thoughts. Decisions about whether they could stay in the UK or would be sent back to their country of origin have been slower or up in the air with the various agency staff working from home. Clients struggled with the uncertainty without people to talk their fears through with, especially if there was a language barrier.”

Telephone calls – though important – were just not the same, so when Covid guidance allowed two people to walk together, Linda was relieved. “Clients said our walks became something for them to look forward to. A reason to get dressed and make an effort. One of my clients had twins and even in the rain, she would wrap her babies up and off we would go! I was fortunate to be classed as a key worker, so my little girl could go to school and had a letter of permission in case we were stopped.”

Back in the first lockdown, Linda admits her own mental health dipped. “At that time we were only allowed one activity per day and I had kids at home to look after and school. I found I had slipped into getting up late, so I decided I would start running. A friend at church called Kayla Kavanagh founded a virtual group called Mothers Runners to get fitter and do a Mud Challenge. She invited me to join and before I knew it, I had started setting a 6.30am alarm on my phone to go for a run before the kids were up.”

“At first we put our virtual runs on Facebook to prove we had gone out! I started with the Couch to 5k programme and took pictures of my activity using the Strava app on my phone. When we could meet outside again as lockdown regulations relaxed, we started running in twos and now sixes. I can’t thank Kayla enough for setting up the group, she has helped so many people who were just stuck in their house.”

“I feel so much better in myself, running and getting fitter has really boosted my confidence. At Christmas I even did my first ever competitive fun run. I used to be always on the go, overdoing things for others. I have realised it’s not selfish to look after ourselves. Keeping my mental health strong, helps my clients and kids too. I’m trying to get my son and friends to join in now!”

“I normally do about 15-20,000 steps a day when I am meeting our survivors. Some days I may have three one-hour walks with different clients. Like many people, I noticed in this third lockdown that my motivation to run had reduced. I used to run 2k to 5k five times a week, so now I am averaging about 80,000 steps.  When I heard about Sofa to Summit, I saw it as a great way to reclaim my mojo and raise money for a vital cause. I was encouraged when many of my friends at Mothers Runners got involved or sponsored me towards our goal of £62,000, including our inspiring founder, Kayla.”

“Every day I see how the money we raise can make such a massive difference in our clients’ lives. They usually arrive at the safe house with nothing but the clothes they are wearing. When they are sufficiently recovered to leave, the new Restoration Hub will provide things they need to begin a new life in society, so they aren’t starting with nothing.

“As a mum myself, I have cried that there are mothers we know who are sharing their mattress with two kids, doing without basic things like a hoover or microwave, things we take for granted. Every penny our supporters help us raise will make a massive difference in our clients lives while they get fitter. It’s a definite win-win.”