The Pennant family share how they’re fundraising for Child Bereavement UK in memory of their son Ned and how they’ve raised funds with three previous challenges

Child Bereavement UK gave us the support and encouragement to talk about Ned, cherish his memories and celebrate his life.

From midday on 3 June to midday on 4 June, the six of us will be playing tennis at home for 24 hours non-stop. Two of us have to be on court at any one time and we are not allowed to sleep, except to catnap down by the court.

Our son Ned died of cot death in July 2003. At eight months old, we don't know what happened to him, but we like to think he was having such a beautiful dream he forgot to wake up. Ned was truly a happy and healthy boy, smiley and funny; an equal contributor to our gang of six. 

Adrenalin follows tragedy then shock, a disease in itself. And Don and I had Jemima (seven), Jack (five) and Maisie (two) to prioritise, followed swiftly by Leo to bring into our rocked world. Our family that you see today has been strengthened at its foundations by the work of Child Bereavement UK in those early dark and bleak months.

Child Bereavement UK gave us the support and encouragement to talk about Ned, cherish his memories and celebrate his life. They were the essential cog in teaching us how to miss Ned, accepting our loss and learning to live alongside the uninvited devastation which shakes the very core of a family, and indeed a community.

The funds we raise will enable Child Bereavement UK to teach more professionals and further develop current ones working with families like ours who are facing enormous, unexpected confusion and uncertainty following the death of one of their members.

We are relying on our natural levels of personal fitness for the tennis part (we all exercise regularly) and mental strength, which we all possess, for the sleep deprivation. We’ve all gone through the night experiences which are hard to train for, but that will be the tough part. Jack is in the British Army so he’s Commanding Officer of the sleep deprivation section! I offered to hire a silent disco to get us through the night but was told it would make the challenge too easy! 

In 2008 when Leo was just four, Maisie seven and a half, Jemima twelve and Jack ten, we cycled two tandems with a tag-a-long attached to each one along the Kennet and Avon Canal, 80 km from Reading to Bath. That was tough as the younger two could barely reach the pedals, the weather wasn’t great, and the towpath was often uneven - we had to untag the bikes to get through farmers’ gates. On day three, the last day, Leo took a big sigh as he sat lopsidedly on his tag-a-long unable to do much and said, “I can’t remember what my bedroom looks like!”.  We raised £5,000 with that challenge.

In 2013 we took three double kayaks 80km from Aynho to Marlow along the Oxford Canal and then into the Thames. This was an isolating and damp experience as chatting is hard when sitting one in front of the other, we didn’t have maps or phones handy, and the riverbank can get quite tedious kilometre after kilometre; we were excited when we went under a bridge or saw a duck! We raised £10,000 this time.

In 2018, the six of us walked the Four Peaks over three days. Starting with Snowdon at dawn, we made it over to Slieve Donard in Belfast for an evening climb, then took an early boat to Cairnryn climbing Ben Nevis that afternoon. And finally, we made an early start from Fort William to Scafell Pike for our final ascent on the third day - exhausting but rewarding. We took longer descending than ascending – man of the match for this one was Don who, with utterly arthritic knees, made these walks grumble free and kept up the pace. We raised £15,000.

And so to the final challenge – we always said we’d do four. Fifteen years ago it was Don and I as the strongest, trying to devise a challenge to include a four-year-old. Now it’s Don and I taking the slowest and weakest slots, which is why this 24-hr ‘tennis-athon’ will still challenge all of us with the sleep deprivation rather than the physical prowess. We are aiming to raise £20,000 making a grand total for Child Bereavement UK of £50,000.

We are close as a family, our unit of six. Each challenge has been an endurance piece but we know we can support each other through the bleaker times, which happen at different times for each of us.

If you’re thinking of taking on a fundraising challenge, go for it and make it hard! The rewards both for Child Bereavement UK and personally are immense.

Support Ned's 20th Anniversary 24-hour tennis-athon

If you have been inspired to take on a challenge for us, please visit our challenge events page, contact our fundraising team on [email protected] or call us on 01494 569048.