Why did you decide to fundraise for the Oral Health Foundation?

I have always been very passionate about my profession and see it as a vocation. I started my career as a YTS nurse in Scotland in the 80’s. I qualified as a hygienist in Dundee in 1981, and I am as passionate and enthusiastic now as I was then, over 30 years later.

When I set the practice up in 2007, the huge responsibility of setting up a business to allow people to access hygienist without seeing a dentist was challenging. Although Direct Access did not become a reality till 2013 I was heavily involved with a group of people who fought for that to happen. The support and the belief of the Oral Health Foundation in me and our profession was overwhelming.

While developing the website, the brand and looking at the legalities and our competencies, our scope of practice, I became increasingly concerned about mouth cancer awareness and the link with HPV, the more I read and learned the more I wanted to help do something about it.

My daughter and two of her friends, while studying at University, developed the website, we talked openly about HPV and oral sex in relation to mouth cancer, as a mother with two sons I knew I was in a position to do something about raising awareness.

The ideas for the walk came about after Direct Access was granted in 2013 and by the summer of 2014 the idea became a reality and was completed during National Smile Month of 2014.

Can you describe what your fundraising event was?

Simply to walk 500 miles and link up with as many of our profession along the way. It had to be something big if we were going to raise awareness of Mouth Cancer and HPV, to encourage the profession and the public to become more informed. Knowledge is a great gift, with the stats on access to dental care, most people being put off by fear, fear of costs, fear of pain, fear of being told off, so many unaware of the risks of mouth cancer and the benefits of a healthy mouth.

I, and about 250 people, walked 500 miles from Kirriemuir, Scotland to Brighton. Supported by Sarah Murray MBE, she was my rock, who kicked me out in the rain, she kept me going, organised accommodation when we had none, found me when I got lost and learned to make a pretty decent Earl Grey tea.

Many people and practices joined me on the way, too many to mention all but a special shout out to Helen Grant and the team at Kirriemuir dental, Elaine Tilling and the TEPE team and all the guys at The Oral Health Foundation for their help with the website and support.

Why did you choose to do this?

I have always enjoyed walking and don’t take it for granted that I can as my mum lost has leg at an early age which made me appreciate what I had got. I was chatting with my friend and colleague Sarah Murray about doing something for charity and we got to talking about how my career started in Kirriemuir and how Brighton was about 500 miles away and it kicked off from there, 500miles4smiles was born.

So, how to walk 500 miles from where I started my career as a YTS nurse to where I own a practice as a hygienist? There is no I in team and good ideas develop if strategically you get the right people involved. I am very lucky, I took a break from hygiene in 2001 and went to work for two major blue chip oral health companies, the contacts and friends I made over the next seven years from the dental industry and continuing education gave me the confidence to believe we could do this.

I have great support at Dental Health Spa, my business partner Carol, who first sent me off with my tail between my legs for even suggesting it, one hour later, having googled the route, said it was a possibility!

To make it successful you need to get as many people motivated and passionate enough to want to take part. As a profession our ability to encourage access to dental care and screen for mouth cancer united us, but the awareness of the HPV element was low.

What was your best fundraising moment?

With a walk of just over a month there were obviously quite a few memorable moments, especially with meeting up with so many like-minded people who were helping me. One of the best moments was eight days into the walk when I crossed the Scottish border into England at Carter Bar where a piper was playing, the sun was shining, Sarah was there with our branded campervan and a great mug of Earl Grey. I have never crossed the border there before, that I remember. We had spent a lovely evening with Hazel Cameron, “The Hygienist” in the borders and a day walking with her practice team from Teviot Dental a few days before. It was a very poignant moment for me after walking in some pretty awful conditions. The last day of the walk from Worthing to Brighton with the Strand Dental team and many others was a relief.

There were times on the walk when I didn’t think I would make it due to shin splints and blisters, but I did not let the physical pain stop me as I knew the mental pain of not fulfilling my goal would last a lot longer. It was lovely to have my team from Dental Health Spa join me as well as I walked into a fantastic champagne reception on Brighton and Hove seafront. Juice radio were there to greet me as was the Mayor and Mayoress! I felt quite important and extremely happy and blessed that we had arrived after 500 miles of spreading the word and that I could still walk.   

What top tips do you have for fundraisers to be?

Be determined but flexible, make sure your goal is achievable, get as many people involved as possible to gee you up when you start to flag. Essentially you need to believe in the cause you are fund raising for and in your ability to complete the task you have set yourself. Don’t let others put you down or put you off.

Approaching the same people all the time asking for them to donate to Just Giving gets very tiresome for you and for them. That is why it is so important to get more people involved. The more teams, doing something challenging that make people want to do it, the more money can be raised from diverse sources. We are all so much more aware of our health as we live longer so it is tapping into something that will drive others as well as you to support or get involved.

Ultimately your fundraising event needs to be accessible to as many people as possible to increase funds raised but also innovative, fun and challenging.