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Walking for The Watermill Theatre

A 2-photo collage featuring a footpath sign alongside a photo of a yellow rubber duck mascot and some coffee and nuts taken on one of Simon's walks.

This year, Oxfordshire resident Simon Coates has embarked on an ambitious fundraising challenge to hike 2000 miles, between 1 March and 31 October. Simon has chosen to support sixteen charities that are close to his heart and his local community. Half are arts charities that have been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, the other half are organisations whose activities address health and welfare needs.

For every month of his challenge Simon has selected two charities to feature as headliners, with a focus on fundraising for their causes during this period. In March, the first month of his challenge, The Watermill Theatre is honoured to have been chosen as a headline charity.

Following the first enforced closure of the theatre a year ago due to the Coronavirus pandemic, The Watermill has faced enormous challenges.

It is thanks to the incredible support of our community that the theatre has been able to survive the last year, but unfortunately, after two further periods of closure, the fight continues. Any funds raised from Simon’s CharityHikes challenge will go a long way in supporting our recovery and will help us to create future productions and opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to take part.

A photo of Simon, The Watermill Theatre and CharityHikes logos and Wilbert the rubber duck mascot.
Above: a photo of Simon and his Watermill duck mascot ‘Wilbert’ on a walk

Before departing on his first walk of the CharityHikes challenge Simon was kind enough to answer a few questions for us:

Why have you selected The Watermill Theatre as one of your chosen charities?

I wanted to support The Watermill because I have been coming to see your shows for as long as I can remember and, particularly in the challenging times we find ourselves in, I think it’s really important to support artistic organisations whose work is important to you.

Despite having seen countless shows at the Theatre, it still seems magical (and slightly improbable) that at the end of a narrow rural lane, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, there is a theatre that produces such fantastic quality theatre in beautiful surroundings

What is your favourite memory/experience of The Watermill?

My favourite memory from The Watermill was definitely The Garden of Llangoed by Ade Morris. It is a beautiful, poignant story, and I loved every single thing about the production, which I saw twice in the Theatre and once when it was touring. The show also piqued my interest in exploring Anglesey which, as a result, has become my favourite place in the world to visit.

Above: Production photos of The Garden of Llangoed at The Watermill Theatre (2006)

Where does your passion for the arts stem from?

I’ve always enjoyed theatre, but I only really got into it after leaving university in 2000. I started out with a couple of amateur groups based around Abingdon, before moving up to the fringes of the professional world for a few years. Regardless of whether it is a professional or amateur production, it’s amazing how, in a short space of time and usually with extremely tight budgets, it is possible to create a whole new world for the participants and audiences to get lost in.

Where will your hikes take you? Have you mapped out lots of different routes?

Initially my walks will be centred around my home in Wantage; I’ll head out for two-three hours as soon as I’ve finished work, and then try to do some longer walks at the weekends. Life will certainly get a lot easier when COVID restrictions are eased, as it’ll be nice to be able to head out for more than one walk a day (knocking out a couple of miles at lunchtime could be a life saver), and to be able to travel further afield, though there are plenty of footpaths around Wantage to keep me out of trouble for a while.

I’m also looking forward to impulsively heading off down footpaths I’ve never explored before; I may get horribly lost, but that’ll probably help me get my mileage up while I try to work out where on earth I am!

Above: Day 1 and Day 2 of Simon’s hikes recorded on maps via Strava

What are you looking forward to the most, and the least, about this challenge?

The two things I’m looking forward to most is (hopefully) seeing lots of donations coming in for all sixteen charities I’m supporting, and for the walking to just become second nature – I’ll finish work and get out there without having to psyche myself up first. The three things I’m not looking forward to are, in no particular order, blisters, chafing and rain!

You can follow Simon’s progress at www.charityhikes.org.uk or via his Facebook and Twitter pages @CharityHikes.  

If you are able to, please click here to visit our Virgin Money Giving page and make a donation in support of The Watermill Theatre and Simon’s CharityHikes fundraiser.

A gift from you will help us to get The Watermill back on its feet, so we can safely bring our community back together and focus on creating uplifting and inspiring theatre for everyone to enjoy.

From all of us at Team Watermill we would like to say a huge thank you to Simon for including The Watermill Theatre in this incredible fundraising challenge and we would like to wish him the best of luck.