Hardy by name, Hardy by nature: Five-year-old Ben raises £1,000 for Bishop's Stortford Food Bank with sponsored climb while virtually blind
It's impressive enough that five-year-old Bishop's Stortford boy Ben Hardy has raised £1,000 for the town's food bank by doing a sponsored climb – but all the more so given that he has severe visual impairment in both eyes.
The Year 1 pupil at Bishop's Stortford College Pre-Prep School was motivated by his teachers to raise money for the charity, while big sisters Jessica, 10, and Alice, 8 – both avid climbers – were his inspiration for the challenge.
On Friday (Sept 18), Ben learned about the food bank, which is based at the Methodist Church in South Street, and how it had been a lifeline for local families, particularly in the Covid-19 pandemic.
So he decided to throw himself into a fundraising feat – and on Sunday he took on the walls at Cambridge's Clip 'n Climb indoor climbing centre.
His mum, Liz, said: "I'm really proud. I think it was just amazing he was doing it all through touch. This was his first time on such big walls."
Ben was born at The Rosie Hospital in Cambridge with cataracts in both eyes and was just two weeks old when he underwent his first eye operation at Addenbrooke's.
He underwent various tests and was diagnosed with Nance-Horan Syndrome, a rare genetic condition which results in poor vision. It is estimated to affect just 50 people worldwide.
But Ben did not let his eyesight hold him back on Sunday. He scampered up 10 different walls a total of 30 times in just 60 minutes, while his protective sisters climbed next to him.
"He was very enthusiastic," Liz said. "He was very resilient and full of joy. He didn't stop climbing for the full hour.
"He's very athletic. He was stretching very far and feeling the way up. He had no fear."
While Ben wears specialist contact lenses, these enable him to focus only up to a certain point. He is unable to see anything close to his face – like a climbing wall.
At school, Ben loves swimming, but to do this he must take out his lenses, leaving him totally blind. "It inspires me every day to see what he can do," said Liz.
Ben's determination captured the hearts of family, friends and neighbours in Maze Green Road, who inundated the Hardy family with donations. Within 24 hours of him completing his challenge, Liz had collected almost £1,000 and pledges continue to flood in.
His teachers are full of praise. Belinda Callow, head of pre-prep, said: "Ben's been an inspiration for us in completing the climbing challenge and has made a significant start towards our fundraising for this year.
"He responded so quickly to the plight of others that we'd been talking about and gave himself a real challenge to show his support and raise money. We're extremely proud of his achievements."