Charity hero – Lesley Foden

Moira Petty ( 13 July 2017 )

When Lesley Foden turned 60 she joined the ranks of people taking on charity challenges, large and small.

Lesley Foden, 60

An artist who lives near Newbury, Berkshire with her husband.

The challenge

In June she begins an eight-week 1,800-mile row round the coast of Great Britain in aid of the RNLI.

The idea of an ocean row had been in my head for more than a decade since an open day where my husband used to work. Some of his colleagues were about to row the Atlantic and my tummy flipped when I saw their beautiful boat.

In late 2015, I was heading towards 60 and my daughter was about to leave home to teach English in Spain. I stood in my kitchen sipping coffee and said out loud, ten times: ‘I am going to row round the coastline of Great Britain.’ I had no idea if it was even possible but I needed a challenge.

Through the national rowing body, British Rowing, I was put in touch with Charlie Pitcher, who runs Rannoch Adventure and has crossed oceans himself. He spent about two hours trying to put me off. When I first met my husband, we belonged to a traditional rowing club, but rowing in seas is much more technically difficult as you have many different tides and currents, shipping lanes and constantly changing weather.

I stood in my kitchen sipping coffee and said out loud ‘I am going to row round the coastline of Great Britain’

Charlie told me I had to learn to sail and put into practice navigation skills, collision regulation rules and learn about VHF radio and safety at sea.

I didn’t really like it and all the sails and ropes confused me, but I got on with it. It was a jolt to find that I would need £150,000 to buy a boat and run the whole show myself.

So instead I signed up to the Rannoch Adventure 2017 GB Challenge, eight one-week legs at a cost of around £2,600 each, rowing the British coastline.

Rannoch’s chosen charity is the RNLI, which would have been mine anyway as it’s a fantastic cause and they’re people we’ll rely on if we get into trouble. I’m also working with marine conservation charity Sea-Changers to raise awareness of plastic pollution.

The training is tough and will get tougher, including running, cycling and gym work. Part of my reason for doing this is to encourage older people to keep fit. When I stopped exercising three years ago my back hurt and I suddenly felt really old.

Lesley Foden rowing onboard 'Liberty'


Most of the other rowers will just do one leg, but there’s Laura, a lovely 30-year-old, who’s doing the entire row. I’ve had some wobbly moments wondering if I can do this, seeing social-media pictures of her swinging across monkey bars!

I will struggle with the lack of privacy on board, as the toilet is a bucket and we have to wash, eat and rest in full view of everyone. There’ll be five crew and we’re rowing around the clock on a two-hour on, two-hour off schedule.

I’m aiming to raise £20,000 for the RNLI but have to cover the £20,000-plus cost of the row. I’m hoping to sell more art but have no other resources.

I’ve learnt how easily crushed I am by friends who say they can’t imagine why anyone would give me money to go off and have a jolly. But going through the pain and suffering will make any money I raise much more meaningful. If I can inspire older people to keep active too, it will all be worthwhile.

Go to to donate. To follow Lesley’s story, visit

Try 12 issues of Saga Magazine for just £12

Subscribe today for just £12 for 12 issues...

Every year Great British Bake Off favourite Val Stone sets herself a challenge - this year she'll be walking part of the Great Wall of China for charity - read more >>>

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.