Housebuilder team leader swaps PC for paddles as he takes on UK’s longest river for charity
18 Mar 2021

A team leader at a national housebuilder, from Gloucester, is going above the call of duty by paddling the length of the UK’s longest river in his kayak. James O’Sullivan, IT service delivery team leader at Vistry Group, volunteers with West Mercia Search and Rescue and will travel 220 miles along the River Severn with the hope of raising £2,000 for the charity. James, who works at Vistry Cotswolds’ Bishop’s Cleeve office, will participate with former Wales slalom and river racer, Alan Owens and the pair aim to complete the challenge in four days. The 26-year-old, from Hempsted, said: “I’ve never done distance kayaking before, this is the first endurance paddling I’ve ever done and I can’t wait, especially to face the river with Alan, with all his experience. My colleagues at Vistry have been very encouraging about the challenge and that’s great to get, especially when so many of us are working from home at the moment. “It’s great getting outdoors, especially in current times, and it’s so important to try and raise money for this vital service who do so much for people and their families. This will be completely new and exciting, and I’m aware of how difficult parts of the river will be. We’re completing the whole source of the river, right to the end, and not missing any parts out at all.” The duo, both volunteers for the charity, will take part in the challenge over the late May bank holiday ?" from 28th-31st ?" and aim to complete more than 50 miles a day, starting around 5am each morning. James has been training at Gloucester Docks, kayaking down to Sharpness, as well as after West Mercia Search and Rescue training sessions. A four-strong welfare team will follow the pair over the weekend, in a van with a kayak trailer. The team will have provisions and help set up camp each night, as well as taking the equipment back home, including the 18ft kayaks. The pair will also mountain bike when the water is too shallow for their kayaks, to make sure they complete the length of the whole river. “We will have small amounts of food and water with us on the kayak, and will stop with the welfare team for some lunch each day,” James added. “The plan is to camp close to the river at nights. The welfare team will have spare paddles, our bikes, and extra safety equipment with them. “We’re so grateful they’ll be joining us. The River Severn is a large patch of the West Mercia Search and Rescue operational area, and a lot of our searches are carried out there. It’s challenging in parts, particularly at The Severn Bridges with the tide and it’s important to have a team supporting you.” James, who started kayaking while still at school and previously coached scout groups, kayaks once or twice a week recreationally, including at Symonds Yat. Also, when he is called out for West Mercia Search and Rescue. Around 40 people volunteer for the charity, across land, water and drone teams, with a dog team soon to be established. The duo is also speaking to kayak manufacturers and stores to see whether they could borrow a couple of kayaks for the challenge. They have both responded to flood rescue callouts as well as missing people searches on land and water. To sponsor James, visit

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