Embark on a thrilling adventure with the Tom Watts Travel Award!
Are you a recent school leaver, aged 18-22, seeking unforgettable experiences and the chance to make a positive impact?
The Tom Watts Travel Award, established in 2016 in honour of the School’s former bursar and benefactor, Mr. Tom Watts offers recipients up to £1,000 to support an ambitious journey or expedition during their gap year, university break or similar period.
The ASA Committee, responsible for granting this award, is ready to support your passion for adventure and community service. The Committee may select more than one deserving recipient each year, therefore, the £1,000 will be split as required between those awarded.
Mr. Watts, a respected figure at Ashford School, dedicated his life to serving others and fostering character development among students. He believed in the power of education to inspire individuals to give back to those less fortunate. Now, it’s your turn to carry on this legacy. If you’re between the ages of 18 and 22, you’re eligible to apply. Whether you’re planning a fundraising trek, volunteering in the developing world, or engaging in charitable work with children, the Tom Watts Travel Award will help you embody the spirit of Adventurous Learning.
On your return, you will have the opportunity to share your expedition tales, insights, and life-changing experiences with students at the School and contribute an article to the annual School Tie Alumni Magazine to inspire others to apply for the award in the coming years.
So, are you ready? Contact our Alumni Office via email to get all your questions answered and learn more about this life-changing opportunity.
Apply now and let the adventure begin!
Our Tom Watts Award Recipients
Will Hall (Yeomen, 2022)
Will Hall (Yeomen, 2022)
My time at Ashford was a period in which I grew significantly in an academic sense, but also in terms of my personal confidence. With some superb A Level teachers I was able to maximise my results, presenting me with a range of university offers – a wonderful problem to have. I ended up selecting the interestingly titled Global Sustainable Development at the University of Warwick. Combining my interests in social sciences, and the more physical side of geography, the course ticked all the boxes.
In my first term at Warwick the opportunity to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with Dig Deep presented itself, and after researching further and attending the briefings, it was clear that this experience would be one that combined all my interests into one. After applying for, and being extremely grateful to receive the Tom Watts Award, my trip was made possible.
Touching on Kilimanjaro itself, or ‘Kili’ as it is known to locals and climbers, it is the most versatile and varied environment I have been to. From our starting point at Machame gate (1800m), to the summit, there are roughly 4 climatic zones. The first and last days of our 6-day climb covered tropical and temperate rainforest, whereas the middle days were spent in what was dubbed
‘moorland’, and alpine desert. Moorland zones consisted of light but very arid vegetation, with alpine desert being dry and very cold. I found great fascination in the changing vegetation and pointed out just about every new type of tree, plant or shrub along the way, much to the annoyance of my teammates!
Having never been to sub-Saharan Africa, the experience of visiting a country like Tanzania was new, and extremely interesting. Moshi, the town we stayed in during the nights either side of the climb, is a busy place with a lot of its focus on Kilimanjaro tourism. For me, as special as the mountain is, it is the people that work on it that are even more incredible. The passion and
enthusiasm the guides have is unmatched, and the porters are just as positive and outgoing, many of whom have aspirations of becoming a guide themselves one day. We spent the climb getting to know the members of our team of 68 guides and porters, learning their stories and trying to gain as much expertise about problems you can face at altitude, for example.
Up to base camp at 4750m, success is very much down to your physical fitness and the coping methods used to combat altitude sickness, such as increasing your fluid intake dramatically, eating despite nausea and most importantly, breathing techniques. However, on summit night, when you get up at 10:30pm, the focus of the climb becomes centred around health and safety and being honest with yourself and the people around you. It was at this point that I realised it doesn’t matter how fit you are, or how experienced you are with trekking and climbing – if you start suffering from severe altitude sickness symptoms then there is nothing that can be done.
Generally, it is quite normal to have a headache and perhaps an upset stomach at altitude, or maybe even light dizziness. However, at 5000m, according to our medic as I do not have a clear memory of the night, I wasn’t capable of walking in a straight line, was extremely dizzy and, crucially, I was hallucinating, which is considered a very dangerous state to be in. Sadly, it was at this point that our head guide, Godwin, gave me a clear order to turn around as it would have been ‘life endangering’ to continue.
This experience demonstrated the importance of listening to my body in this kind of situation, but even more so, the experts around me. I frequently hear of altitude sickness as a concept being brushed aside and laughed off or seen as common knowledge. I cannot emphasise the dangers of going to altitude enough, and I think this idea of risk carries over into other extreme sports or expeditions as well.
As devastating as it was looking up at the summit, watching 15 friends that I had started the climb with carry on without me, I was looked after extremely well and it was definitely the right call. When he turned me around, Godwin told me ‘Hakuna Matata, the mountain never leaves’, which is something that will stay with me for a long time.
Every single guide on our team was extremely kind and told me to give them a call when I want to try again! In seriousness, this really demonstrated to me the positivity and freedom that I spoke of before, which is something that every single Tanzanian I interacted with carried with them.
Of course, the most important element to the entire trip was the fundraising the group was able to achieve over the course of the last year. Raising over £81,000 for water, sanitation and hygiene projects in Bomet County, Kenya, was not only a highly rewarding experience, but something that will make a huge difference to the lives of so many people in the area. Seeing evidence of what past fundraisers have been able to achieve made it clear to me that this wasn’t just a process of raising money, but more a process of changing people’s lives.
As for the future, only days after leaving the Tanzania I decided that I will attempt to summit Kili again in the near future, as I did feel a lack of closure or a feeling of success when descending. Plus, it’s a great excuse to return to a wonderful country! The extent to which Dig Deep makes a profound physical difference in Kenya really hit me during the talks and presentations we were given whilst in Tanzania, so continuing with Dig Deep in some capacity is important to me, and I am already exploring ways to do so.
Finally, I want to say an enormous thank you to the ASA Committee for considering and accepting my application for the Tom Watts award – the challenge of Kili and the trip itself couldn’t have come at a better time for me personally, and I am extremely grateful for the support the award gave me, allowing me to take on such a challenge. It has inspired me to take on many more challenges and commit to similar fundraising targets again.
K-Leigh Hargreaves (Merchants, 2018)
K-Leigh Hargreaves (Merchants, 2018)
Whilst studying at Ashford School, my favourite subjects were Psychology with Mrs Ball and Spanish with Señora Calver. I was stuck choosing between these subjects for university, but after completing the voluntary section of the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme at a Care Farm, I was inspired to study Psychology. Care Farming uses therapeutic farming practices to support its service users. The farm I volunteered for was a day service for adults and young people with additional needs/learning difficulties, offering the opportunity to engage with fully supervised farming-related activities. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, particularly supporting service users with pony and donkey care, as this incorporated my equestrian skills. I enjoyed applying psychology to working with young people with additional needs and undertook a placement year during my third year at university, where I worked as an SEN teacher. It was such a rewarding experience and instilled in me that this was the path I wished to pursue after graduation.
During my final year of university, I looked for an opportunity where I could incorporate animals and psychology to benefit people with additional needs and found an equine therapy voluntary project in Argentina with a charity called Projects Abroad. Equine assisted therapy involves using horses for a variety of benefits – occupational, emotional, and communication. I applied, and was fortunate to receive the Tom Watts Travel Award, which enabled me to travel to Argentina to volunteer my time with the project, alongside additional community projects. I was also excited, as this project gave me the opportunity to use the language and communication skills Señora Calver had taught me during my A Level Spanish lessons.
I arrived in Córdoba, Argentina and met my host family who instantly made me feel so welcome. On my arrival, I enjoyed an asado – a typical Argentine meal shared with family and friends. This was a great opportunity to practice Argentine Spanish. I learnt all about my host family and had a quick insight into their customs and culture. My first full day included an introduction to Córdoba with my fantastic guide Agustina and I met two other volunteers.
During my second day, I was given the opportunity to visit a local kindergarten centre, which enables the local children to access education and two meals a day (I was told this is the only food most of the children have access to). Whilst volunteering there, I supported the staff with providing lunch and playing with the children, as well as brainstorming how to make the outside play area a secure environment. Due to vandalism, the perimeter fence had been breached and unfortunately this meant it was unsafe for the children to play outside. We worked with the staff to decide on what could be done, including raising money and sourcing supplies. The centre receives some funding from the local province, as well as donations (such as play equipment) from Projects Abroad. It was a humbling experience but really inspiring too.
On my arrival at the equine therapy centre, I was briefed about the patients that use the centre, their goals, and what will happen during each session to support them in reaching them. I was told that the patients had a variety of abilities, and that I should expect to support people with cerebral palsy, autism, visual impairments, acquired paralysis, Down Syndrome and Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs.
We got the ponies ready, and I met the first patient – a young woman who had been using the centre for many years. Due to cerebral palsy, she told me she struggled to walk unaided, but when riding she felt free and much more mobile. We practiced a dressage test as she one day hopes to compete in para-dressage. It was very special to watch her and the pony work so harmoniously together. Another patient was a young boy with autism. I was told that when he first started coming to the centre, he was completely non-verbal. After a few sessions he engaged not only with the pony, but with Veronica, the lead therapist, and eventually the volunteers. After back-to-back sessions all day, I helped feed and get the therapy ponies comfortable for the evening.
The next few days involved more sessions with lots of other patients. It was so rewarding to play a part in helping them achieve their goals. Some patients required four volunteers plus the lead therapist to support their sessions, for example due to being quadriplegic. These sessions were particularly rewarding as they enabled the patients to have a richer occupational therapy experience than they would without equine therapy. The routine consisted mostly of preparing the ponies and warming them up, assisting the sessions (either by leading/controlling the ponies, supporting the patient’s bodies, or giving instructions) and then cleaning the paddocks and feeding. I quickly got used to the routine and by the final week every day passed too quickly! I met and supported approximately 30 patients during my time with Projects Abroad and hearing their stories and equine therapy journeys were so fulfilling.
I am so grateful to the ASA committee for awarding me the Tom Watts Travel Award. This experience was a trip of a lifetime! It opened my eyes to the lives of people living with disabilities in Argentina, as well as seeing first-hand the benefits of equine therapy. I met so many wonderful people, whom I still keep in touch with, and I hope to return one day to visit and volunteer for a longer period of time.
Georgie Williams (Squires, 2017)
Georgie Williams (Squires, 2017)
On 1 September 2017, I boarded a plane to Mombasa in Southern Kenya to spend three months working with Camps International. It is something I had dreamed of doing ever since I heard my father’s stories of growing up in Zambia as a child.
Three hours drive north-west of Mombasa is a small village called Tsavo, an incredibly remote settlement in the foothills of Rukinga. It is a community plagued by HIV, poverty, and disease carried by long-distance lorry drivers. Floods had destroyed existing toilet facilities at the local primary school and with schools being dependent on their ‘student to hole’ ratio to stay open, our work was crucial. We dug foundations, made bricks, mixed concrete and cut iron for six weeks in blistering heat. What we remember about Tsavo, however, is not the sweat or bruises or mosquito bites – it’s the children: five year-old Grace and Gladdis eating Oji from pink cups under the shade of a Parasol tree; Ajanja, whose dance moves put Michael Jackson to shame; and Manga, who quietly followed us home each day to wave goodbye. We left Tsavo with heavy hearts, but our work was done and it was time to move on.
Through the turbulent streets of Mombasa where political demonstrations filled the streets, we arrived at Muhaka village. Our project was the construction of a traditional mud house for a family facing eviction. Heavy rain threatened to thwart us, but employing local skills, we got a roof up, and the walls took shape. We also worked with the Mjane women to replant and manage cleared mangrove swamps. This was to recreate vital flood protection, and provide rich fishing ponds.
Our final project was something we were able to join purely by chance; a Healthcare Outreach programme organised by a group from Brighton. This involved clinics set up in different schools every day for seven days, all equipped with a pharmacy, dentist, midwifery, optician, and dietician. It was an immense task – 5am starts, highly emotional situations, and challenging conditions, but with the help of thirty wonderful nurses and ten Kenyan doctors we saw and treated more than 3000 patients. I found the experience especially influential and have now chosen a degree to include human biology.
Most vividly and fondly I will remember a young girl called Mwanasha, who became my closest companion. She was just fourteen but incredibly bright and wise beyond her years. She showed me everything, from the mill where she collected corn flour each week, to the stream where her and her sisters swam in the rainy season. We walked the village streets each evening and she told me about her dreams of becoming a wedding planner. She was in the midst of sitting her final exams two years early, and just two days before I left she learned that she had earned a scholarship to go to secondary school in Mombasa.
Nick Smelt (Yeomen, 2015)
Nick Smelt (Yeomen, 2015)
I was incredibly lucky to be given the opportunity to spend six weeks at the Olympic Youth Development Centre in Lusaka, Zambia, in summer 2017 coaching tennis to young people who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to play the game. I travelled as part of the Wallace Group of universities, forming part of a five strong team of sports coaches from the University of St Andrews. As part of the project, we were required to fundraise to cover the costs of our trip, and thanks to the generosity of the Ashford School Association, I was fortunate to receive support from the Tom Watts Travel Award.
Upon arrival in Zambia, we realised just how challenging it would be to organise sessions for the players, whether it be due to the disorganisation of the local coaches, or ‘Zamtime’ – whereby everyone appears two hours after the agreed time! However, we eventually managed to organise four hours of coaching a day for the players, many of whom had some of the best natural talent I’ve seen, but are frustratingly held back by a lack of equipment and coaching. The players were also fascinated by the wheelchair I use for playing and coaching tennis as wheelchair tennis as never been played in the country, but after discussions with the local coaches during the project, it is hoped tat a wheelchair tennis programme will soon be launched in Zambia, which is very encouraging! Throughout our time in Lusaka, the players improved significantly and were very grateful that the ‘muzungu’ (an affectionate term for a white person – or at least that’s what we were told!) had given them the opportunity to play tennis.
As well as coaching sessions, we also took the opportunity to explore both Lusaka and Zambia more widely, with visits to rural villages and Livingstone. Crossing the border into Zimbabwe whilst witnessing the sheer power of Victoria Falls, and going on safari in Botswana were definitely two highlights of our time in Africa!
All in all, my time in Zambia was one of the best experiences in my life so far, but it certainly wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Tom Watts Travel Award from the Ashford School Association. I’ve gained a new understanding of life in a different part of the world and grown to realise just how privileged my life really is.
Sophie Howland (Franklins, 2015) & Charlotte Roberts (Squires, 2015)
Sophie Howland (Franklins, 2015) & Charlotte Roberts (Squires, 2015)
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was a challenge we had been dreaming about since our time at Ashford School. So, when we were given the opportunity to not only climb the mountain, but to raise money for the charity Hope for Children, we jumped at the opportunity. We climbed as a part of Loughborough University’s Rag Department, and with thanks to the Tom Watts Travel Award, and many months of fundraising, we were able to raise a combined total of £6832.
Before we set off on our climb we were given the opportunity to visit the Amani Children’s centre in Tanzania, which is a project funded by Hope for Children. The centre rescues children from extreme poverty, neglect, and from the many dangers of homelessness. Amani works tirelessly to provide the children with a safe home and care, and an education all the way to University level. Visiting the centre was humbling, and to see where some of our money might be spent put the upcoming challenge into perspective.
Day one of the trek began with signing in at Machame Gate, where we were greeted by black and white Colobus monkeys. We began walking through dense jungle and, after five hours, arrived at Machame camp, which is at an elevation of 2980m.
Our second day began scrambling up the mountain and hiking through the clouds. We had to clamber up boulders and face sheer drops which proved, at times, to be very nerve-racking. After a challenging walk the clouds broke for the first time, and we were rewarded with our first view of the summit. This gave us a real sense of purpose, finally being able to see our end goal. We arrived in camp (now at 3840m) to watch the sunset, and we were able to see the stars for the first time which was like nothing we’d ever seen before.
After an early start, on Day three we began to see the most dramatic change of scenery as we trekked closer to Lava Tower. The Tower and surrounding scenery were formed when Mount Kilimanjaro was still an active volcano, and consequently the landscape is very barren with plant and rock formations – it looked like something from a sci-fi film! We reached an altitude of 4,600m, but to help our bodies acclimatise, after lunch we began returning down the mountain to sleep at a safer altitude. The pressures of high altitude began to take a toll on our group with members starting to suffer from altitude sickness.
We began Day four facing the 257m Barranco Wall, this was a very challenging climb which involved a lot of scrambling and took us to an elevation of 4600m. At this point in the trek members of our team began to be evacuated due to the dangerous effects of altitude sickness. This was a moment we really had to come together as a team to maintain a positive attitude – helped by lots of singing and biscuits. After a gruelling 16-hour day we arrived at base camp with mixed emotions, knowing that we only had three hours sleep before our only attempt at the summit.
The three hours’ sleep was the coldest three hours we have ever experienced, with windchill at around -25 degrees Celsius. As our group was the largest we woke up last, and could see headtorches in the distance, dotted along the climb to the summit. Mentally summit night was tough as we had to walk in single file in almost pitch black. However, we were rewarded with the most beautiful sunrise which illuminated not only the mountain, but the surrounding plains.
Our group arrived at Stella Point a lot later than anticipated, and even though the summit was only 170m away, due to exhaustion and effects of the altitude, it took us a further two hours to reach Uhuru peak. The summit was covered with hundreds of shards of ice, and the gap to walk through was extremely narrow that meant walking through them was gruelling. We finally reached the summit (5895m) which was an incredibly emotional moment, looking down at the mountain below and seeing everything that we had worked so hard to achieve.
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was by far the best and most inspiring experience, and we are still so grateful for everything we learned and managed to achieve. Our team was incredible, and we met such inspirational and positive people which has completely changed our outlook on life. Once again, we’d like to thank everybody who supported us through this challenge, and for helping us to raise a combined team total of £100,008 for Hope for Children.
Brandon Chia (Franklins, 2015)
Brandon Chia (Franklins, 2015)
In April 2018, with the generous support and partial funding from the ASA Committee, I took part in a six day charity dogsledding expedition across the Arctic Circle. In the efforts to raise awareness and £3000 for the national autistic society, our group travelled a total of 200 km in under 5 days.
On our first day of our trip, we travelled to Tromsø, in Norway where we were greeted by our tour guides Per-Thorne and Hege. We were also greeted by the pack of howling huskies who were as excited to meet us as we were to meet them. We went over our itinerary, gear, supplies and stayed in our Sami tents for the night to start the expedition in the morning.
On the very first day of our expedition, we fixed our sleds, and met the team of huskies that will be carrying us through the arctic circle for the next 6 days. With the sleds strapped and ready to go, the howls of 80 huskies echoed throughout the mountains, signalling their excitement to start the expedition. The only instructions we were given was to pull the anchor and hold on, and to use the breaks when necessary. As soon as I lifted the anchor, the dogs took off in lightning speeds, and carried us into the mountains of the arctic circle. Along the way, we had a few mishaps, such as falling off the sled, to the point where I had to chase after mu own dogs in order to retrieve my sled. However, the breathtaking view of the arctic mountains made the start of the journey seem almost dream-like. Having to jump off the sled at certain points and push the sled uphill, as well as manoeuvring our way across trees, branches and rocks, by the time we reached our camping spot, our team was exhausted.
As soon as we fed the huskies and put their winter coats on, we were met with the harsh reality of camping in the arctic. Having to learn how to set up our tents, build our own fires as well as make boil our own water, we were out of our element to say the least. Camping in the arctic was rough, as the cold only got colder during the night, and the tents weren’t exactly cosy. However, by the fifth day, we were experts and adjusted very comfortably to camping in the arctic.
Our team continued on the expedition for the next five days, with some days sledding up to six hours without breaks. Having now returned from the trip, aside from learning to dog-sled and camp in the arctic, I also have a much greater appreciation for the little things we take for granted, such as running water, food and showers. Being an Ashford School alumnus, I’m proud to represent Ashford School’s spirit of adventurous learning and I look forward to the next trip I embark on.
Harry Lancaster (Yeomen, 2017)
Harry Lancaster (Yeomen, 2017)
After successfully raising over £3,500 for Raleigh International the time finally came in October of last year to embark on an adventure of a lifetime to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. After arriving at Heathrow and meeting other volunteers like myself we flew to Nicaragua’s capital city, Managua. Our field base where we would be staying and stopping over between projects was about an hours drive from the airport. A week later, after meeting everyone and finding out our teams, projects and leaders, we left for out first project – the Community Phase in a small village located next to Río Blanco called Martín Centeno in Matagalpa around 5 hours drive. There were 5 houses we stayed in. Our houses were the fortunate ones to have access to running water, but out of 50 houses, only 20 had access. Many had to walk and borrow from neighbouring houses just to wash and cook. This was one of our main goals – putting in bigger pipes from the local water tank to provide all houses in Martín Centeno with access to clean, sanitary flushing water. We took it in turns to walk and help the locals with the construction work, which in the heat and humidity of Nicaragua was no easy task! One of our other main focuses while we were in the community was teaching the locals the importance of hygiene, in what was called our WASH project (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene). We thought the best way of achieving this was to teach the children in the local primary school how to properly wash their hands and where to put their rubbish, as most of it was burnt in order to cook every night. We designed and built what we called a ‘tippy-tap’ which was essentially a large container full of water with a pedal. We decided to re-cycle plastic bottles and turn them into bins and place them in various places around the community for the locals to use and enjoy. Working closely in partnership with charities like Agua Para La Vida (Water For Life) we successfully completed our aims of installing pipes for all houses and even managed to contact the local government about cleaning the bins weekly once full. My time in community was one of the most memorable experiences I have had to date – many people had basic houses with very basic living spaces yet they are so happy and grateful for everything we did. They made us feel at home from the first to the last minute and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this phase. It was so rewarding to see the faces of everyone when they finally had flushing water 24/7. I still keep in touch via Facebook with everyone in Martín Centeno and hope to return one day to see how things are progressing.