Students faced ticket barriers, mental barriers and language barriers last week – all for a good cause.
Reading week began in such exotic locations as Berlin, Paris and even Disneyland for some lucky students – and they didn’t pay a penny to get there.
Teams set off for Manchester Raise and Give (RAG)’s annual ‘Jailbreak’, where the aim is to get as far away from Manchester as possible without spending any money, on Friday, 25 October.
The winning team, ‘Mr & Mrs Badonde’, managed to get all the way to Berlin using just their charm and determination.
“It was the most surreal weekend of my life,” said team member Gemma Westcott, who took part in the event with her boyfriend – Chris Carr. “I don’t actually know how we got to Berlin, but we did.”
All money raised goes to KidsCan, a charity set up at the University of Salford and the only research facility in the UK dedicated to researching cures for children’s cancer.
Prizes are given for reaching the farthest away destination in the world and getting the furthest distance in the UK.
After racing to Manchester Piccadilly train station and running into a kind train conductor who – “after lots of begging” – let the team onto the train, Gemma and Chris were onto another mode of transport and their first hurdle.
“We went to the coach station, and the manager was like, ‘no chance you’re getting on a coach for free,’” said Gemma, a third year Biomedical Sciences student.
“We thought, ‘you know what, let’s just ask the coach driver’. He just said ‘yeah, hop on.’”
This luck and perseverance took the team to Dover, where they hitchhiked in the old-fashioned thumbs out, by the side of the road style. The kindness of strangers continued.
“Eventually a car stopped,” said Gemma, “and it was this Latvian man.
“He looked like Gru from Despicable Me. He was quite scary but he was really nice, at heart he was a bit of a softie. We made friends with him by the end.”
The team only found out where they were going upon arrival, “We thought originally that we were going to France on the ferry”, recalls Gemma. “We got to Belgium and then realized we were in Belgium.
“The Latvian guy asked if we wanted to go to Berlin with him, and we thought we couldn’t miss the opportunity to go to Berlin. We thought it was in West Germany then we realized it was East Germany – we were in his car for twelve hours.
“It was [awkward] at first because he didn’t really speak English. We would ask him questions like ‘are you going on holiday?’ and he just didn’t understand.
“We kind of slept off most of the 12 hours. He was a lorry driver, so he was pretty hardcore at driving.”
While the kindness of the Latvian Gru-look-alike may have been the key to victory for Mr & Mrs Badonde, strangers a lot closer to home proved harder to crack.
Tom James and Edmund Salim’s team Chained for Charity were spurned at every turn in Scotland.
Not being able to leave the country due to Edmund’s visa, “The plan was to get to John O’Groats”, said Tom, as the team sought the coveted ‘furthest in the UK’ prize.
Donning bright orange prison-issue jumpsuits, the duo soon ran into difficulty after making their way to Perth (Scotland) within five hours of the start of the event.
“In England, it was easy for us. We just asked, and people were like ‘that’s cool,’” said Tom. “As soon as we got to Scotland they wanted full permission from the companies, and they wanted us to have called ahead of time – we had done, but they wouldn’t give us permission.”
Perhaps due to looking like they were actually breaking free from jail, the team encountered resistance from locals.
“The conductors were proper moody, none of them would let us on. The only trains we caught in Scotland we got from sneaking on,” said Tom.
Having snuck onto a train, the team were issued with an ominous warning.
“The conductor said, ‘I’m not gonna charge you now, but you’re not going to get through the barriers at Glasgow’,” said Tom. “We were at the barriers, wondering what to do, at half six in the morning. I was about to go and plead with her to let us through and she just said, ‘long night, lads?’ and let us through.”
The team’s clothing meant they were were mistaken for railway engineers, “When we walked through there were loads of railway workers in their bright orange jumpsuits, it was so funny.”
Soon after this stroke of luck, however, the team ran out of steam. Locals did not provide much encouragement, “They said, you’re not going to end up anywhere,” recalls Tom. “That was sort of a downpoint. Maybe we just had a bad experience, but they weren’t friendly at all. Most of the people we came across would encourage us but they really didn’t want to donate or help us out at all.”
Calling it a night, the team decided to focus their attentions on “having a good time and spreading the word”.
“We didn’t really do exactly what we set off to do, but it was good anyway,” Tom added.
In contrast to Scotland, one team found themselves in the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’.
Team Mem & Em made it to Disneyland Paris through “half-asleep French blagging,” said team member Emily Hodson.
Any plans to get further and win were put on hold for Mickey Mouse.
“We figured that discounted and speedy entry into Disneyland Paris followed by a chat with Mickey Mouse would make for one hell of a story,” Emily wrote on a blog about their experience. “We wanted to get the best Final Photo ever for KidsCan and we did just that.”
When asked for a word of advice for Jailbreakers in 2014, Gemma of Mr & Mrs Badonde remained boundless, “Most of [our success] is because we were so optimistic. The thing that got us through was that we were so confident. We just believed that we’d get really far, and that’s what got us through.”
Team Chained for Charity’s Tom offered some different, though no less sage, advice, “Obviously, don’t go to Scotland.”