A thank you to Phil by Toby Thornley, 16th August 2022

So, let me ask you a question – how does it make you feel when you see a bunch of people in an organisation doing something for charity?

For me, I’m always curious about the story – the why – because it never takes much before you catch a glimpse of the humanity that sits behind our day jobs.

I always want to know where did it all start, why that charity, why that activity, why did everyone take time out of their everyday lives to do something for someone (in many cases) they may never meet?

Well, I can tell you this much, this year started off with the very best of intentions and then became more personal and poignant than any of us could have imagined.

Now for as long as I can remember, there has always been a backstory in Ark’s endeavours to raise money for a good cause. Whether it’s been a Bake-off, Tart-off or Raw Hide rides that have all had their share of entertainment and comedy errors, they all have had their own story to tell.

A thank you to the John Radcliffe Hospital for their amazing reconstructive surgery for one of our partners following a horrendous accident.  Or fund-raising for the National Brain Appeal, after a highly valued member of our team’s wife had sadly passed away from Motor Neurone Disease – Whatever the cause, there has always been an underlying motivation or reason that brings us together.

This year started like any other – We had already landed on MIND as our charity of choice because we felt it best represented the sentiment of the team following the aftereffects of COVID-19. Between us, we had all coped in different ways during lockdown, some of us better than others but we all agreed as a team that part of the learnings from the pandemic, included the need for a better understanding of our biggest unseen illness, mental health.

Then as far as I was concerned, it was business as usual – I knew that bikes were tried and tested to get people involved, (extend that to static bikes over a virtual challenge and watch the engagement rise) then all that was left for me to do, was to choose the target and cajole as many people as possible to join in – It was all falling into place – I spotted that the Tour De France was running at the same time, did a rough calculation and set the target for us to ride the 2068 miles in just 24 hours to raise £5000 for MIND – Job done.

Except it wasn’t – The Wednesday before we were due to start, I received a call that would change everything. One of our loved and massively valued ex-colleagues Phil Begley had been taken into the Princess Alice Hospice for end-of-life care, following a battle with bowel cancer. Many of us that were close to Phil knew that he had been ill for some time, but it had been kept very private in respect for Phil and his family. We were all in shock.

Phil had been a massive part of Ark for over a decade as the Head of Construction and Development at Cody Park, responsible for the management and creation of huge parts of the campus. The thing about these large-scale projects is that they are more than just buildings that do a job, the effort, personal investment, collaboration, intensity, sweat, and teamwork involved is unlike any other environment you’ll experience.

The result of working that closely, is you get to know each-other really well and the team, didn’t just respect but loved working with Phil. The friendships he had here couldn’t be done justice on just one page – me included – it was unthinkable for all of us, we could only imagine what Phil’s family were going through. That night, we agreed to tell the rest of the team and with Phil’s wife Adelaide’s permission, agreed to share the funds raised for MIND with the Princess Alice Hospice.

From that moment, everything changed – As the team learned about Phil, more and more people wanted to be involved, to play their part, to do anything, something useful in what felt like an otherwise helpless situation.

As with every Ark challenge that I can recall, the team just knocked it out of the park. From the Security guards to the CEO, the Alliances to the Frontline support, from the moment we began on Thursday midday and throughout the night, we didn’t stop for a second. By 10am Friday we had completed the circuit and in true team style, carried on going to see just how far we could get – which was a pretty cool 450 miles over target by midday.

Combined we raised £3220 for MIND, £8350 for the Princess Alice Hospice, which Ark kindly added £6605 to make the total raised £14,955 – A sobering reminder that this wonderful team of people are unstoppable when they put their mind to something.

I mentioned earlier that every moment like this has a story.

Just days later we learned that Phil had sadly passed away and I know he would have been touched to see the emotional response from so many of the people that worked with, respected, and have many fond memories of him – there’s more than one way to say thank you and this was our small way to show our gratitude to Phil.

Someone soon will need the exceptional care that the Princess Alice Hospice provide, and they have promised to let the family know that the funds which enabled that care, came directly for and on behalf of Phil.

But there is always so much more to a story than the end.

For me and many others, there are the thousands of simple moments and memories that made our time with Phil special. One of the funniest, exceptionally approachable, kind, and accident-prone people you’re ever likely to meet – For every night out with the team when he seemed committed to breaking something, from his big toe to his ankle and even his arm – there was never a dull evening 🙂

There was always a story and we loved being a small part in yours Phil – here’s to you mate.

Lastly, from everyone at Ark, I’d like to end by saying a huge thank you to Adelaide, for letting us say thank you and goodbye to a much-loved and missed friend.

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