SOME of the biggest names in North-East business are backing a pioneering initiative to improve public health by walking in the region’s glorious countryside.

The Big Smile comprises 50 fundraising walks, organised by new charity, The Walk & Talk Trust, with free registration and a fundraising target of just £99 per person.

Each stage – starting with the first walk from Raby Castle on June 21 and ending with a circular walk from Durham Cathedral on August 27 – covers 20k and is fully guided by experts.

The aim is to reconnect people to each other, and to nature, after the challenges of the lockdown, with proceeds being used to give a free pair of walking boots to thousands of children and disadvantaged adults.

The campaign has been founded by Durham businessman Peter Bell, and a host of well-established North-East companies have been quick to sign up to his vision, with business benefits that include demonstrating corporate social responsibility, team-building, and high-profile marketing.

One of the first businesses to see the potential of The Big Smile was global law firm Eversheds Sutherland, which has an office in Newcastle. The company is sponsoring the Sunderland stage on July 29, and the Beamish stage on August 9.

Shirley Hall, head of the Newcastle employment team, and senior partner for the firm’s Edinburgh and Newcastle offices, said: “We are very passionate about corporate social responsibility, which flows from our vision of “helping our clients, our people and our communities thrive”.

“Whilst we support a number of national charities that support communities, such as End Youth Homeless and WaterAid, we also recognise that a local approach is also important for each office. We, therefore, aim to support our local communities in a number of important areas including homelessness, food provision, health and wellbeing, domestic violence and education.

“The Big Smile immediately grabbed my attention because it is such a great project to encourage better health and wellbeing, and also links with education and supporting schoolchildren.

“I thought the provision of walking boots for school children was such a fabulous initiative that I reached out to our Charitable Trust for financial support to enable us to sponsor the event and they were delighted to do so. The project has been embraced by the Newcastle team who are genuinely excited to be part of it.”

Twenty-five members from Eversheds Sutherland will be taking part, with clients also being engaged, and Shirley called on other businesses to add their support.

“It makes complete business sense because it’s giving back to our communities,” she added. “You also can’t underestimate the value of people knowing they work for a company that cares not just about their well-being but people in the wider community too.”

Greggs, which has its headquarters in Newcastle, is another prominent business to be supporting The Big Smile, by sponsoring two stages in Tynemouth on August 6, and Newcastle Quayside and City on August 13.

Chief Executive Roger Whiteside said: “We are extremely proud to come on board as a supporter of The Big Smile. This campaign is close to our hearts for so many reasons and really aligns with our commitment to improving the lives of our local communities.

“In particular, we applaud the focus on improving the lives of young people, giving them a good start in life, and raising awareness of mental health. We look forward to working together and donning our walking boots in the months ahead and would encourage others to do the same.”

The Education sector is also represented by New College Durham, which has signed up as sponsor for the Thornley stage on July 26.

Andy Broadbent, Principal and Chief Executive, commented: “We are delighted to sponsor The Big Smile 2021. As society becomes more reliant on technology, people have become less active.  Providing children with walking boots will, hopefully, encourage them to get out more and get fitter.

“Walking in the countryside is not only good for physical health, it can also boost mental wellbeing. We are proud to be part of this initiative which will help make a big difference to the lives of people in our local community.”

The campaign also has the backing of the region’s largest business membership organisation, the North East England Chamber of Commerce, which represents 3,000 businesses.

Chief Executive James Ramsbotham said: “The Big Smile is an inspirational vision that has the potential to have a significant impact on the physical and mental well-being of people across the region, as well as showcasing the outstanding beauty of this part of the world.

“We are delighted to throw our weight behind this initiative and recommend it to our members as a wonderful way to highlight their corporate social responsibility, and demonstrate their commitment to the well-being and morale of their employees.”

Other supporters of The Big Smile include: the world’s biggest sports retailer, Decathlon; The Northern Echo; County Durham Sport; Durham County Council; and Banks Group.

Opportunities for stage sponsorship are available for £500. Supporters of charity partners can also opt for 50 per cent of the funds they raise to go straight to their own charity.

Geoff Simpson, chief executive of The Walk & Talk Trust, said: I’d love to hear from any businesses, large or small, that might be interested in getting involved with The Big Smile this summer – it’s not too late!”

  • Geoff can be contacted on 07730 911777 or email info@walkandtalktrust.co.uk
  • To find out more, go to www.bigsmileuk.co.uk