Rewarding Futures

Hills, heartache and hugs… Surviving the Cotswold Challenge

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Finishers... Anya Burton and Debbie Flowers (r) with their medals

“It was an exciting start to the Cotswolds Way Challenge. My walking partner Anya Burton and I were among 2000 entrants warming up to music in the shadow of Bath’s Royal Crescent. We’d chosen to take on this challenge in aid of Action for A-T who raise awareness of Ataxia Telangiectasia - a rare, genetic degenerative disease of childhood.

From then onwards let’s just say that it was a walk of two halves.

The first 25 kilometres were easy and quick. As we walked along we met some lovely people participating for a variety of worthwhile causes and who themselves had amazing stories of bravery to tell. Even by 50km – the halfway point - I felt good enough to do a little dance for the camera despite having a few blisters. With checkpoints every 12-15km, we were encouraged to snack and drink regularly (even though the cool dry weather conditions were in our favour). These stops offered some respite, a chance to refill my camelbak water carrier and take painkillers.

The second half of the challenge was an entirely different proposition.

By the time we reached Coley Peak (at 64km), it was getting dark and cold, with food stops an increasingly welcome sight as hunger set in. With only occasional glow sticks on trees and our headtorches to guide us, we also learnt quickly about night-walking. For safety reasons, walkers were released in groups although Anya and I walked alone for much of the time often up and down thickly wooded hills and over rough terrain (the tree roots and rocky, uneven slippy surfaces really slowed us down). Going uphill was easier, with downhills by this stage a killer on various parts of the body.


Consequently, the checkpoints at Coley Peak, Painswick and National Star weren’t pretty. We witnessed plenty of injuries, with some participants even taken off by ambulance including others walking for the same charity as us. For us it became a ritual of getting feet re-strapped and blisters popped by St John Ambulance at every opportunity.

Not surprisingly, the hardest part was the final 20km (80-90km for Anya and 90-100km for myself). Walking in those dark silent hours provided time to think and reflect on a lot of things. It was here where we had to dig deep, push through the pain and keep going. The legs had pretty much gone by now so getting over the regular stiles and down rocky paths on very steep inclines was, frankly, horrific.  We laughed, we sobbed, we cajoled… quite simply, we couldn’t have done it without each other.


With 95kms completed, my two children - Daisy and Alfie - and Anya’s children (Ella and Alex) met us. Their hug was very much needed and they offered wonderful words of encouragement. In fact both sets of children accompanied - and motivated - us for the final two kilometres. This was certainly the hardest part for me; my knee felt like it had detached itself from my leg, and some earlier stomach issues and subsequent dehydration had taken its toll. I couldn’t eat or drink anything in those last few kilometres but having our children alongside and telling us how proud they were made it all worthwhile. I could only take my hat off to the guys who ran this course! I crossed the finish line in a time of 27 hours, 53 minutes and 58 seconds.

One day on and Anya and I are recovering. We’re slightly broken - but immensely proud to have crossed the finish line and hit our target of £1,500 (the Action for A-T group raised a staggering £37k). The support of friends has been nothing short of magical.

And finally, if Anya asks me to do anything else with her I’ve suggested jumping out of a plane. It’s infinitely quicker and less painful.”


I’ve worked with the team at Vana on many occasions over the years, engaging them to hire senior talent in a number of businesses. Both Debbie and Jo offer great insight and expertise, but above all they deliver results. I would happily recommend their services.

Scott Fishburn, HR Director, DFS

“Debbie and Jo are high-integrity recruiters who take time to understand organisational needs; commercial and cultural. VANA have worked in partnership with us a number of times, enabling us to secure some excellent senior HR hires.”

John Burgess, Head of Talent & Leadership Development, AXA Group

“I have worked with Debbie both as a candidate having introduced me to ING Direct and Invensys, and as a client supporting me with key hires in both organisations and more recently at DAS.  Both Debbie and Jo are exceptionally well networked, I trust their judgement completely and would highly recommend Vana.”

Kate Banks, ‎Group Director of HR & Legal Services at DAS UK Group

'Debbie and Jo are first class headhunters of HR talent. They take the time to fully understand the brief and culture of the organisation before suggesting any candidates for opportunities. Thank you Vana for sourcing quality hires for my team.'

Helen Norris, Head of HR - Nationwide Building Society

I have worked with Debbie both in the search for talent and also as a candidate, in both situations Debbie has been faultlessly professional. Debbie builds strong relationships exploring briefs to ensure she has a deep understanding of what the business and candidate need, allowing her to deliver a real match.

Ian Marchant, Retail HRD, Greene King plc

Candidate experience is really important to me in recruitment, because that is someone's first experience of an organisation - your organisation. As I see it, the recruiter is part of YOUR brand and their actions impact on YOUR reputation when they act for you. The candidate remembers the experience of applying for a job and not always the recruiter involved.

My experience as a candidate of Jo's was exceptional. Jo kept me informed at every stage, questions were anticipated and I always knew where the process was. Also, Jo was present as a person and not as a remote handler. This shows me that any candidate that Jo places would be treated in exactly the way I'd want them to be. I recommend her without hesitation.

Geraldine Buckland, Director of People, Bristol Water

Debbie and Jo are great recruiters of HR talent; they have successfully worked on a number of key senior hires for us both in the UK and internationally.

Jonathan Wright, Group HRD, Murphy Group

Debbie has recently supported me in securing my first HRD role. Her observations and feedback were very insightful and assisted me greatly in navigating the recruitment process and learning about the company and environment I'll be stepping into. Totally dependable, unbiased and a good judge of character, I would highly recommend her to act on your behalf with prospective employers. I haven't worked with Debbie yet as the employer but wouldn't hesitate to do this if the need arises.

Anita Calverley, HR Director, Yeo Valley Farms

The thing about Vana Resourcing is that Debbie and Jo actually care – about you as a person, your career and your business. Yes they deliver great candidates and opportunities but they make sure that the fit / opportunity is right, challenging both sides in a positive way when needed. They’ve supported my career for the last 10 years, including introducing me to my current HRD role, and I have no hesitation that they will be my first point of call for future candidates and opportunities.

Suzie Noble, Chief People Officer, Brightside

“I have worked with Debbie and Jo several times, they stand out from the crowd as a sourcer of talent and when managing you as a candidate, I simply haven't worked with anyone better. Commercial, thorough, expert and with a sense of integrity that means you are only ever recommended to organisations that suit you - and as a hirer you only get talent that works for your organisation. As a hiring organisation, working with a partner like Vana is simply irreplaceable.”

Head of OD, Vodafone

Debbie brings accurate and current insight on HR Talent. Her ability to recognise top people in their field and actively nurture relationships over a long period of time sets her apart from her peers. Debbie is refreshingly honest , she keeps confidences and is not afraid to challenge both candidates and hiring Executives to ensure the right outcome for all parties. I would have no hesitation in recommending Debbie or Vana Resourcing for a critical HR hire.

Barbara Duffy, International HR Director leading on Talent, L&D, Resourcing,OD

“Debbie introduced me to OVO Energy, and she not only found me the right role, but an organisation whose ethos matched my values.  I have since worked with Vana to recruit almost my entire senior HR team! From HRBP's to a Reward Lead and most recently a HR Director. Vana really understand the importance of culture fit."

Kim Atherton, Chief People Officer, OVO Energy

I have worked with Vana Resourcing for a number of years representing me in my own search and as a client. Debbie and Jo are professional and efficient but unusually for this sector, genuinely caring about both client and candidate experience in equal measure.

Jonathan Edge, HR Director UK & Ireland at Ideal Standard International BVBA

“Jo is highly professional, knowledgeable and proactive. It’s not often that a recruitment consultant really interviews you in the same way a prospective employer would.”

Simon Amesbury, SuperGroup plc

What a refreshing delight to work with a commercial partner who understood my business, had national and regional awareness, a handle on the market, an effortless connection with candidates and could tolerate my Everest-like expectations.

I will continue to work with Debbie and Jo again on my incessant drive to solve the talent conundrum of the coming years.

Keep up the great work, you are a credit to the industry.


Stephen Robson, HR Director, Global O&Supply Chain at Kingfisher plc

"The team and I have worked with Jo now on a number of occasions for various recruitment assignments. I have always found Jo to be consultative and considered in her approach but above all honest and straight forward! She has a great understanding of her market place and is always at the end of the line to offer insight and market knowledge. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Vana and look forward to our continued relationship."

Resourcing Partner, Nationwide Building Society, Resourcing Partner, Nationwide Building Society

I've known Jo for a number of years and worked with her as a client and candidate. What's great about working with Jo is that you're guaranteed an honest perspective and terrific insight to the market. She nurtures her relationships in a natural and engaging way: put simply - she knows her stuff!

Marie Aitken, Chief People Officer

I initially engaged Debbie to undertake a search for a Head of OD. She is consultative in style, and took time to gain a comprehensive insight into our organisational culture and HR journey, delivering an excellent shortlist of candidates and a super hire. The feedback from our candidates on their engagement with VANA has been equally positive. Jo and Debbie has since supported me with several other senior hires within the People organisation at RLG, and we enjoy an effective working partnership.

People & Corporate Affairs Director, Royal London Group

“I have worked with Debbie as both candidate and client. In both contexts I have found her to be super-efficient, thorough and a pleasure to do business with. She listens really well, responds quickly and is flexible to evolving demands. Debbie is up there in my top 3 recruiters.”

Sue Round, Head of Talent and Organisational Effectiveness, BP

I have worked with Debbie and Jo for many years as a candidate looking for opportunities and a manager looking for talent.  I have always been impressed by how Vana strive to ensure that there is the best fit in terms of candidate values and company culture.

Sarah King, Head of HR, Triodos Bank