Six years of striving

I can’t quite believe it was six years ago this week that we set off on the first ever Virgin STRIVE Challenge - an epic journey from London’s O2 Arena to the top of the Matterhorn.

Virgin Strive Challenge 2016

Back in 2014, my brother Sam and my cousin Noah both had a brainwave. They wanted to create an extraordinary physical challenge that would push the boundaries of human capabilities and unify people with a shared purpose - to create change and raise funds for Big Change. The Virgin STRIVE Challenge was born out of their passion and belief that, as humans, we’re capable of just about anything!

I trained for months, alongside Sam, Noah and the rest of the core team in preparation for the 2014 challenge. However, my role turned into Chief Cheerleader when I received the amazing news that I was pregnant with Etta and Artie. 

Holly Branson Strive 2016

Six years on – and Sam, Noah and I having six babies between us –  I’m so pleased to say that the STRIVE challengers have conquered over 6,000 km of terrain and raised over £4.5 million for Big Change.

From a kitchen brainstorm to the summits of the Matterhorn, Mount Etna and Mont Blanc, it’s incredible to look back on the journey that the Virgin STRIVE Challenge has taken us on over the past six years.

The core team for the 2016 Strive Challenge

Last year, I sat down with Sam to discuss the highs and lows of the STRIVE journey. It was moving to hear Sam speak so candidly about his emotions growing up as Dad embarked on so many crazy adventures and survived numerous near-death experiences. We both acknowledged that the adventure gene didn’t fall from the tree as we reflected on our own close calls – I’ll share more of those in the coming weeks!

What I loved most about our conversation was hearing Sam speak of his hopes for the future as Big Change sets out on its journey to Reimagine Education. Check out the full interview here – I hope you enjoy it!

As well as looking ahead, it’s wonderful to reflect on how the funds from STRIVE have helped us to support Big Change to date. This notably includes the 18 individual projects that we have helped support and scale as they each work to solve issues around education. 

One such project is Frontline – an organisation that recruits, trains and supports people to become social workers to address the fact that half a million children in England don’t have a safe or stable home. By 2020, Frontline will have trained over 1,000  social workers and 420 social work managers.

Another wonderful project we have supported is Voice 21 – a group that is working to reform the UK education system so young people from all backgrounds can gain access to high quality oracy education and become confident communicators in the 21st century. To date, the team have directly trained over 600 teachers in oracy, developed an online learning platform, and helped to establish the first All Party Parliamentary Group on the subject matter.


Sam and Noah have taken part in every STRIVE Challenge since 2014 and I’m proud to say I was striving right alongside them both (and Dad!) in 2016. That year, the challenge was split into five stages and took place over the space of an entire month. It involved five days of hiking from Switzerland into Northern Italy followed by a cycle leg to the Southern tip of Italy, swimming to the shores of Sicily, a mountain bike ride to the foothills of Mount Etna, and a half-marathon run to the summit of the volcano.

Needless to say, it was the most challenge thing I’ve ever done and one of the experiences I’m most proud of.

Holly training for Strive 2016

As Noah, Sam and the rest of us on the STRIVE team like to say: “Growth happens when you step out of your comfort zone to achieve bold ambitions; magic happens when you do it with others.”

Since experiencing the magic of the challenge myself, I couldn’t agree more.

Being a part of the STRIVE team and working together toward that common goal inevitably creates a growth mindset. This is exactly what Big Change is striving for when it comes to the education system too.

Virgin Strive Challenge_2016_training weekend_RB_Holly_Sam

I have so many touching memories from STRIVE over the past six years – whether it’s on the bike, the hike or the side lines – and it was so wonderful to hear Sam recount his incredible experiences too.

As my mum Joan said during the 2016 challenge, “small steps make big strives.”

I’m really excited to keep striving and bringing about big change for many years to come.

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