Henry is a ski and snowboard industry stalwart with a big heart and an even bigger ambition. Last year Henry set himself a challenge of completing 333 Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) to raise money for our programme Snow Camp in just 1 year. From amusing anecdotes and stories to meeting some really inspiring people, the RAK challenge is a wonderful journey to follow.
We asked Henry to tell us why he decided to take on this challenge and to give us an update on some of the RAKs he has done so far.
“It was a caffeine-fuelled decision which has had a hugely positive impact on my life over the last 10 months. After mulling over the idea for a while I decided at Two Many Cooks cafe in Dorking to do 333 Random Acts of Kindness as my contribution to help make the world an ever so slightly better place and give a boost to my personal mental wellbeing at the same time.
To add to the challenge, I decided to use the Random Acts of Kindness as a vehicle to help raise awareness and funds for Snow Camp, a programme very close to my heart. Having been involved in the ski industry for 20 years I’m aware of the fantastic work the charity carries out assisting less fortunate inner-city kids to help themselves reach their full potential.
Within 45 minutes at the coffee shop I set up a dedicated Instagram page for the challenge. After guzzling a second flat white I walked across the road where I saw some Rotary club volunteers planting crocuses. After chatting to them I discovered Rotary Club volunteers do this across the country every year to celebrate the eradication of polio. As a small thank you for the work they do I bought them coffees. It was my first RAK and I was up and running.
Since then, I’ve documented 82 RAKs which include buying coffees for people, making food donations, popping to see vulnerable neighbours, buying Big Issues, supporting individual fundraising efforts and letting people go in front of me in supermarket queues if they’ve only got a few items.
As time has gone by, I’ve adapted the initial concept to include RAKs from members of my family. My daughters have embraced the idea, enthusiastically making cakes for neighbours and donating their prized collection of Junior Weeks (a weekly news magazine specifically aimed at children) to a local charity.
It has also allowed me to tell the story of my extraordinary English/Belgium cousin Countess Pinky Lagrelle (yes, that really is her name). She is an Olympic skeet shooter, now retired, who has spent the last five years coaching up and coming shooter Denzil Grose. She has done it for the love of the sport, not charging him a penny.
One of my all-time favourite RAKs involved five-time Olympic skier and Ski Sunday presenter Graham Bell. I was planning to interview him about his upcoming appearance on Dancing on Ice. When a colleague got wind of this, he had a request: a friend of his was nuts about Graham and could I make a special video message with Graham wishing her happy birthday. We went one better than that. Graham agreed to be videoed singing her favourite song and playing it on guitar in return for a charitable donation to Switch180. The song was Hit Me Baby One More Time by Britney Spears. The result is hilarious.
While carrying out my RAKs, two extraordinary RAKs happened to me: I lost my watch when mountain biking close to where I live in Dorking. When I realised the following day that it was gone, I went back to the precise spot where I knew I’d mislaid the watch but couldn’t find it. I reported it to the police and local national park ranger in case someone had handed it in but no joy. As a last gasp attempt at recovery, I posted a message on Facebook and Instagram not expecting anything to come from it. Remarkably, a few days later I received a response on Facebook and the finder of my watch, Nick Platt, offered to send it back to me.
I drove to his house in West Sussex where he told me that after he and his son discovered the watch, they put it in a tree at eye level to make it easier for it to be found. I was too busy searching on the ground and obviously missed it. The following week they returned to the same trail and saw the watch was still there. That’s when they took it home and soon after saw my message on Facebook.
It transpired that Nick’s son Dom is no regular mountain biker but a sponsored downhill enduro champion who was national champion in the 2019 juvenile category. As a thank you to Nick and Dom I gave them a case of my favourite red wine.
The other experience is even more extraordinary. I was in Wales in May to catch up with some college friends. I arrived late on the first night and was locked out of the b&b where I was due to stay. I quickly concluded I’d have to sleep in my car and chose to drive it near the local beach. Come 4.30am a car pulls up alongside and the driver plus dog politely asks what I’m doing there. I explained.
When he returned an hour later after his early morning dog walk he asked whether I would like a coffee back at his house. My coffee addiction is sufficiently strong that I decided to risk the chance of being murdered by a random stranger in order to get a caffeine fix. We went to this house – the large size and luxury fittings surprised me. Judging by my coffee maker’s unpretentious demeanour I was expecting something more modest.
It so happens my potentially dodgy saviour was none other than ex rugby international player Peter Morgan who was in the Welsh side between 1979 and 1983 (I didn’t recognise him because I barely follow rugby). He made me cups of coffee, toast and signed notes for a couple of rugby loving friends of mine. I thanked him profusely and returned the following day with a giant bag of locally roasted coffee as a thank you.
At one stage on this RAK journey I was wondering if I’d bitten off more than I could chew until something extraordinary happened. Back in May I went to Motspur Park in London to watch my elder daughter play in a football match and was searching for somewhere to buy a coffee. The only available nearby option was a basic take-out from Shima Stores. Another customer arrived asking for a coffee and so as my Random Act of Kindness for the day I told the proprietor Ketmaine Patel I would like to buy his coffee.
Ketmaine’s eyes lit up and he smiled at me broadly as I told him why I was doing it. As his wife stood next to him nodding enthusiastically, he said, “Every day I do a Random Act of Kindness. It is my daily ethos.” What is truly extraordinary and humbling: Ketmaine has been doing this for 24 years. As a rough calculation that amounts to more than 8,000 Random Acts of Kindness. For the record, he wouldn’t let me pay for the coffees.
Suddenly my target of 333 RAKs seemed much more do-able though I’m going to extend my original 12-month deadline, expiring on September 28. I’ve decided to keep going for as long as it takes to reach my target as the experience so far has been as beneficial for me as hopefully it has been for Switch180 and the people I’ve met. And I think I’ve got some top fundraising ideas to pursue too… watch this space!”
Follow Henry’s challenge on Instagram @rak_henry.