Better Together

Ben Burch (BH, 1997)

It all began in the rowing minibus; or was it the gym, or perhaps the boat? I am not sure where precisely, but at some point in my journey, a lesson was learned by racing boats down rivers. Your crew is everything.

There is something very special about rowing. It’s one of the most unique team sports; there are no superstars, no ‘man of the match’ and, perhaps most importantly, there is most benefit in lifting the weakest crew member up, rather than making the best better. That sounds like a real team to me.

As the years roll on, past success fades into the more distant memory and life becomes filled with the somewhat predictable milestones. No regrets along the way – but there was a gap. I wasn’t sure what it was… simply approaching middle age perhaps?

This crystalised with the birth of my younger daughter on 9 August, when four days later she was having open- heart surgery and her life hung in a precarious balance. I was shaken to my core, questioning everything. The world seemed to stop spinning. In my darkest hours, and I’d expect many readers’ times of need, it was the people around me that were the guiding light. I needed my crew.

One 100 km fundraising run later, to assist improvements to infant heart surgery, and the pieces of the jigsaw started to fall into place. During this run, my crew assembled; people had been brought together around a common cause, and we became far greater than the sum of the parts.

With a career in technology – an industry that creates unparalleled opportunity with one hand and regrettably causes untold harm with the other – I knew it was time to direct my efforts towards a more meaningful purpose. Technology is here to stay, in fact its relentless march to control and absorb our time is almost unstoppable. What if I could channel the tide and pivot the flow to use technology for good. What if we could use this tool to bring us all closer again – in real life? That’s my aim, and that’s what Allegr, the Social Enterprise I have co-founded, is doing and it’s the experiences at College where the seed was sown.

(Image right caption: Early on with Allegra on the way to 100km)

(Image above caption: Bringing together over 100 people for a Motor Neurone Disease fundraising run)

As part of an awareness and fundraising campaign for Allegr, and as the Covid hiatus was drawing to a close, I set about a challenge – to run for 12 hours in 12 towns across the 12 months of the year. Whilst the headline was meant to grab attention, the purpose was far more important – to get people out and joining in, to remind them all that sharing an activity is more beneficial than the activity on its own, to show everyone that we are simply better together. To illustrate that your crew can be everything. We raised £15,000 for Samaritans in the process.

‘We are better together,’ is the simple premise at the heart of what we are now doing. Creating opportunities and programmes of events that unite people around a common goal. Reminding them that an activity shared, in person, is far more enjoyable and rewarding. Running around in circles for 12 hours might seem like madness, but it was transformational. Allegr now connects thousands of people around the country and we are growing that reach every day. Allegr is named after my daughter Allegra – she is healthy, happy and thriving.

(Image above caption: Mix of Old Cheltonians and Olympic Champions supporting a 12-hour run in Oxford