Chef Tim Bilton among fundraisers walking from Big Ben to Kirkburton in memory of friend

Fundraisiers are walking from London to Huddersfield in memory of their friend who died five years after being diagnosed with cancer. Laura Reid reports.

A team of fundraisers were all set for a mammoth charity walk from Big Ben back to their home village in Huddersfield when the first cases of the coronavirus rippled through the UK.

It, of course, put their plans for the challenge in memory of their late friend Ben Jebson on hold.

But two years on, they’re in their last few days of training before Big Ben to Burton finally becomes a reality.

Some of the walkers taking part in the Big Ben to Burton challenge.

“There’s just excitement to get going now,” says organiser Adam Wilson. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Adam will be part of the team of ten, who will begin the seven-day journey at the London landmark on April 9, heading back to Kirkburton. Among those joining him are Cannon Hall Farm chef Tim Bilton and Ben’s wife Lucy.

“The best thing about the delay is that Lucy is now doing the challenge with us,” Adam says. “She had been pregnant and just given birth before the original date.”

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The late Ben Jebson with wife Lucy.

Lucy and Ben had found out they were expecting their second child, Bobbie, now two, to join their eldest daughter Frankie, now four, shortly before Ben passed away in 2019.

In 2014, having just turned 30, Ben was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. He underwent a gruelling range of treatments to target the cancer including chemotherapy, radiotherapy and an allogenic stem cell transplant, a procedure that involves replacing damaged stem cells with healthy ones from another person.

He was given the all-clear in May 2016, but sadly went on to develop Graft-versus-host disease (GvHD), a potentially serious complication of the transplant.

GvHD occurs when particular types of white blood cell in the donated stem cells see the transplant patient’s cells as foreign and attack them.

With a weakened immune system after the transplant, Ben was also especially susceptible to picking up - and becoming unwell with - numerous infections, many of which led to hospital stays.

All that eventually took its toll on Ben’s lungs and in August 2019, at just 35-years-old, he was transferred from Leeds St James’s Hospital to Barnsley Hospice for palliative care.

He died soon after he arrived, surrounded by his family.

“There is a saying ‘a man is not gone while his name is still spoken’,” Lucy says. “As a family we talk about Ben daily but to know that those around us are remembering him too means a lot to all of us.

“I love that, although they don’t understand now, in years to come I can show our girls how much their dad meant to so many people.

“I am humbled that two years on the group are so determined to ensure the Big Ben to Burton event goes ahead and that we are able to remember Ben and the charities that supported him.

“When the walk was originally organised in 2020, I had just had our second daughter so I was unable to join the group for the full week.

“At the time I was disappointed and trying to think of ways that I could support them. It is definitely a once in a lifetime kind of challenge so I am so pleased that I am now able to join them.”

The team will cover between 17 and 31 miles each day, adding up to a total of 182 miles. People can sign up to join them for the last leg, from Mosborough to The Junction Inn pub in Kirkburton.

“When Ben passed away, we got together and thought let’s try to do something to help the charities who had helped him,” Adam says of the challenge.

“He had been through a lot. He’s called Ben and he was really tall so I sort of said why don’t we go to Big Ben and walk back here. It snowballed from there.”

Those taking part are friends of Ben, who was well known in his local community. Tim, whose brother-in-law was especially close to Ben, has been affected by cancer himself. He was first diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer in 2013 and now lives with an incurable form of melanoma.

“I’ve gone from cancer patient to cancer survivor to cancer thriver,” he says. “I feel like if I keep moving forward all the time then cancer is behind me and it has a lot of catching up to do.

“Ben was a really, really genuine person. They always say the best go too soon.

“I wanted to support this right from the word go. I was going through my treatment at the time and I feel honoured to be part of this. It’s one massive challenge that all ten of us are undertaking.”

That it is, but the team have been training intensely and hope to raise as much money as they can in Ben’s honour.

One member, Simon Docherty, the owner of Harvey’s bar and kitchen, already raised £10,000 by taking on the Goggins 4x4x48 challenge last year, running four miles every four hours for 48 hours. The team hopes to double that to £20k with the Big Ben to Burton walk.

“We want to say a massive thank you to everyone who has sponsored us,” Tim says. “It’s really appreciated whether it is a pound or £500, it’s been phenomenal.

“The community here, I’ve never witnessed anything like it. So many people pull together…There’s something really special about this place.”

Ben, of course, will be on the minds of all of the team as they finally complete the challenge.

“He was one of those guys who was always there for a good time,” Adam says. “He was a bit of a joker, but a fun one. A funny guy, very dry sense of humour. He was a guy you would just want to be friends with.”

The Big Ben to Burton challenge is raising money for four charities who supported Ben - Hug on a Tray, Kirkwood Hospice, Barnsley Hospice and Anthony Nolan, which helps people with blood cancer and blood disorders.

The former - Hug on a Tray - is made up of a group of women who provide tea, snacks and TV to benefit Haematology patients and their families in St James’s Hospital, Bexley Wing.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in hospital and little things like people coming in and giving you a little treat, I can’t put into words how that makes someone feel,” Tim says.

Nearly £15,000 has been raised so far for the charities. To read more of Ben’s story, visit ww.bigbentoburton.co.uk

To donate, visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/bigbentoburton