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Beech Hall CHANNEL SWIM Junior Squad Success

Inspirational junior swimmers aged 14-16, from Beech Hall School in Cheshire, have successfully completed a 21-mile relay swim of the English Channel, raising a significant £42,000 and counting for Mencap, the UK’s learning disability charity.

Following their monumental success in 2021, the ambitious swimmers aspired to go even further this year… not only gearing up two boats to swim in relay the substantial distance from Dover to France, but also vastly increasing their fundraising target for Mencap from £35,000 to £50,000.

After being turned away at the harbour at 2am due to strong winds on their initial attempt, the first group of English Channel conquerors were relieved to be given the all-clear just a couple of days later. Ben Pope launched the swim at 4:23am from the water’s edge and landed the swim at 4:45pm in France – a total time of 12 hours and 13 minutes. Ben and his teammates, Harold Ghorbanian, Charlie Barnes, Henry Barnes, James Barlow and Blake Lyons, swam throughout the early hours of the morning and day as they each took to the water an hour at a time.

The second boat set off just days later for a three-person relay, with the team including swim coach Nikki Pope and Beech Hall alumni Sophie and Lyon (both 17), upping the challenge considerably following their efforts last year. The trio completed the relay in 12 hours and 11 minutes.

Commenting on the arduous challenge, Ben Pope said: “The first swim was much harder than I thought and I didn’t like getting stung by jellyfish. By the second swim, I could see the progress we were making as a team and it was much more enjoyable. Tough, but good.”

The swim squad AKA ‘The Beech Hall School Mencap Marvels’, comprises swimmers with little or no previous experience of open water, and with support from the highly dedicated school staff, have embarked on what is widely regarded as the toughest swim in the world. All with a massive heart and a monumental goal.

Beech Hall Headmaster James Allen commented, “I could not be prouder of the Beech Hall School Mencap Marvels, and the phenomenal commitment and effort our pupils have shown. They battled ferocious jellyfish, horrible seasickness and challenging French currents to succeed - their efforts and achievements are exceptionally inspiring!”

Beech Hall School Swim Coach Nikki Pope added: “We are not looking for life to be easy because often the best results come from taking on board the most difficult challenges. This is about optimising opportunities and success and understanding that we can all do so much more than initially we think we can.”

Edel Harris OBE, Chief Executive of the learning disability charity Mencap, said: “The Mencap Marvels have been absolutely amazing, and the dedication and determination of the whole squad is just fantastic. We are delighted they are supporting us with their fundraising which has now reached over £42,000.

“The Mencap Marvels have inspired me to take on my own swim challenge later in the year, so I will be asking them for training tips!

“The vital funds raised will not only help us continue our life changing work, but it will also help Mencap make the UK the best place to live if you have a learning disability.”

For those wishing to donate, the school has set up a fundraising page: 


About Beech Hall School 

Beech Hall School is a non-selective independent school for children aged 6 months to 16 years. It is situated in a beautiful sixteen-acre site on the edge of the Peak District, housing two listed buildings, playing fields and a swimming pool.

The school is committed to providing a child-centred approach to education. Small classes and a focus on the individual mean that quality teaching and learning leads to success. Opportunities beyond the curriculum are just as important as those in the classroom at the school, seeking to provide a truly unique curriculum for every child. A balanced focus on academic attainment, sporting opportunities, emphasising individual strengths and celebrating traditional values are at the core of everything that is important to Beech Hall.

To find out more about Beech Hall visit: 


About Mencap 

There are approximately 1.5 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities. Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want: 


For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact Mencap’s Freephone Learning Disability Helpline on 0808 808 1111 (10am-3pm, Monday-Friday) or email helpline@mencap.org.uk.    

 What is a learning disability?    

·A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability which means that people might need support with everyday tasks – for example shopping and cooking, or travelling to new places – which affects someone for their whole life;    

·Learning disability is NOT a mental illness or a learning difficulty, such as dyslexia. Very often the term ‘learning difficulty’ is wrongly used interchangeably with ‘learning disability’;     

·People with a learning disability can take longer to learn new things and may need support to develop new skills, understand difficult information and engage with other people. The level of support someone needs is different with every individual. For example, someone with a severe learning disability might need much more support with daily tasks than someone with a mild learning disability. 

Pictured - Beech Hall School Mencap Marvels Swim Squad in Dover.

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