Martha Sitwell and Clementine de Blank Chappell have arrived safely back in the UK, following a 500 mile ride across Mongolia, on horseback, to celebrate the life of their eldest sister Polly who took her life in July 2013. They began their journey on 1 August in aid of Mind, the mental health charity, and Prisoners of Conscience Appeal Fund, the human rights charity.
Lady Sitwell rode side saddle on this once in a lifetime trip sitting aside, rather than astride, her Mongolian horse which has never carried a rider in this way. The gruelling journey took the riders up a beautiful western route from the Chinese border to the Russian border and passed through a UNESCO World Heritage Area.
The idea for the journey came from the sisters’ shared love of travel and adventure – and the organisation of the challenge has been a family affair with Polly’s mother, Melanie de Blank, taking on a crucial coordination and fundraising role while her grandson, seventeen-year-old Conor, acted as official photographer of the journey.
Polly, was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder in 2003. Despite the problems this caused with her work, she was passionate about telling important stories in her role as a BBC World Service producer. She researched and produced documentaries including Slavery Today, the Musical Legacy of Slavery and the award winning youth programme ‘The Edge’.
Since Polly’s death her family and friends have put their effort into creating an event that will celebrate her life and love of adventure as well as raising money for two charities that were very dear to her.
Melanie says: “This is the perfect challenge in many ways as traveling with Polly led to adventure. She was the person who would lead others up a mountain, whisky glass in hand, to watch the sun rise; the one who clambered over a wall if she saw a promising but deserted pool to swim in – and somehow charmed any security guards who appeared!
Polly set out to lead a beautiful life and she led a beautiful life. She would observe and savour every detail which is something that my girls will do as they set off on this trip in Polly’s name.
It is bitter sweet for us all, but we’re determined to embrace this project which will help us to raise money for two important charities.”
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, says: “I would like to thank Polly’s family for organising this magnificent event to celebrate Polly’s life and raise money for Mind. Their love for Polly is clear for everybody to see. It is a fitting tribute that the event will allow us to continue providing vital support for people experiencing mental health problems who need it, when they need it the most. We wish them all the best.”
Polly was passionate about human rights and had become involved with Prisoners of Conscience Appeal Fund in recent years – a charity her father, Justin, had been an active Patron of for many years.
Lynn Carter, Director of Prisoners of Conscience Appeal Fund, says: “We are so grateful to Polly’s family for choosing to remember Polly in this unique way. Their brave and resilient response to the tragedy of losing Polly echoes the courage of our beneficiaries all around the world who risk life, freedom and exile rather than deny their principles. The funds raised from this spirited adventure will help rebuild their shattered lives.”
Six-time Olympian, Sir Mark Todd supported the team by providing products from his equestrian clothing range. Long-standing friend, Mark said: “I wish Martha and her team very best in this challenging test they have set themselves all in aid of a very worthy cause. I am delighted we could be a small part of it and wish them well on their journey.”
Martha, Clementine and Conor kept diaries during their trip and more than £20,000 has already been raised for Mind and Prisoners of Conscience Appeal Fund. Supporters can still back the event online and follow @ForPollydeBlank on Twitter.