A man from Walberton has raised over £1,200 for the charity where he is supported, by successfully completing a six day trek of the Sahara Desert.

Mark, who has been supported by national learning disability charity Hft for 24 years, set off on 6 November alongside a team of six others from the charity, including fundraising and operations staff. The epic adventure saw the group battling the elements – from sandstorms and intense heat during the day, to freezing nights sleeping in tents – and even out under the stars – among the sand dunes. The team faced up to eight hours of walking a day, with the trek beginning at an oasis at the southern stretch of the desert, and passing through some of the highest dunes in the region. Fifty miles on, the committed team finished up in M’Hamid, where they were able to enjoy a celebratory lunch before starting the journey home.

This year’s gruelling trip isn’t the first adventure Mark has embarked on. The ambitious 52 year old became one of the first people with learning disabilities to complete a fundraising trek of Iceland in 2017 and has been looking for a new challenge ever since. After deciding to swap snow for sand, Mark spent several months training and fundraising with the support of friends and staff at his service in Walberton, who have been behind him every step of the way. Fundraising events taken on included a hot dog sale to staff and a themed community event for the whole family.

After raising an impressive £12,500 in total, Mark and the rest of the team have ensured that several projects at Hft services across the country are on track to receive a funding boost. This includes transforming a greenhouse in a community allotment at the service where Mark lives, allowing people to continue enjoying the therapeutic benefits of gardening and home-grown fruit and vegetables all year round. Money raised will also be used to help fund new activities and equipment at a day opportunities service in Kent.

Mark said: “It was hard-going, hot and very sandy but I enjoyed the whole experience, especially the interesting sights and the great people I shared it with. And next we’re hoping to walk the Great Wall of China.”

Jodi Harford, Regional Fundraising Manager at Hft, said: “Our desert adventure was full of amazing sights, big challenges and plenty of team spirit. Although it wasn’t easy, it was an incredible experience and definitely something to tick off our bucket lists. Mark’s dedication and energy inspired us all – he led the group warm- up session every morning, was often found right at the front of the group and was always available with an encouraging word or to lend a hand if anyone is struggling. His achievements really do prove that no dune is too high to climb for people with learning disabilities.

“Best of all, we raised money that will help Hft support people to live the best life possible. Our services focus on supporting people in all areas of their life: from developing practical skills and connecting them to their community, to helping them to get a job and introducing them to technology that can help them live as independently as possible. We do still have a little way to go in order to achieve the ambitious £14,000 team target that we set ourselves, so any donations will be gratefully received and put to very good use.”

To donate, visit the team’s fundraising page:  https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/HftSahara2019