'It's like a magnet, the coal': Cardigan man wins award for coal-carrying fundraising treks

A 55-year-old man from St Dogmaels, Pembrokeshire, has received an award for fundraising thousands of pounds by carrying 50kg of coal on his back across hundreds of miles.

Derek Burton came up with the unique idea from his experience seeing men delivering coal to his house as a child.

The brickwork college teacher wanted to give back to the local community and so decided he would use the coal-carrying as a way to raise money for children living in the area who had illnesses or disabilities.

Derek even went on to set up his own 'Criw Glo' - or Coal Crew - to help bring the community together and generate even more donations through group walks.

Across numerous walks and challenges, Criw Glo and Derek have travelled roughly 745 miles with the coal and raised around £55,000 so far.

Derek has now been crowned ITV Cymru Wales Fundraiser of the Year, in recognition of his efforts.

It started out with a ten-mile walk. Derek knew a local woman who needed medical treatment that they could not get under the NHS, so he decided he would raise money for her and the family.

"It was self-funded, basically," said Derek.

"So I decided, 'I think I could walk 10 miles with that', so I did it for her then. That was tough.

"What made it good for me was that she was at the finishing line when I got back. But unfortunately then...unfortunately she's not here now. She didn't make it. But I was glad I did it for her anyway."

Since then, Derek has completed several 100 mile walks. One saw him trek from Cardiff Castle to Cardigan over the space of ten days. Another took Derek 30 miles from Carmarthen to Cardigan.

He said: "I've done the Cardiff half-marathon twice. First one was easy, just one stop on that one but the second one, I must have stopped around 25 times. I hurt every mile on that one.

"It never gets easier, I've never done an easy one. But as much pain as I've been in, that's nothing compared to the people we're raising money for."

The money raised on each challenge has gone to families in the community or a local school in Aberporth - so they could build a sensory garden for their pupils.

Others helped by Derek's fundraising have been able to buy things like a mobility chair and petrol for them to travel to hospital for treatment.

The 55-year-old added: "I've felt like quitting on all the walks but I've got good people around me who remind me why I'm doing it and what for...and I can't quit then.

"It's community based, all the people involved are all local, we are part of the community.

"It's like a magnet, the coal is really, it brings so many people together. It goes a long way, it's not just carrying the coal.

"It's never been about me carrying the coal. It has always been about people getting involved and joining us on the walks, people bringing us tea out at 3 o'clock in the morning - that's massive and people don't think that's much, but it is.

"It's a community thing and I'm proud of being part of the community, or Criw Glo is."

  • Watch: The moment Jess Main went to surprise Derek with the news he had won:

Derek was one of four final nominees for ITV Cymru Wales Fundraiser of the Year. A panel of senior ITV Cymru Wales staff and a guest judge, Welsh Paralympic rower Ben Pritchard, watched video profiles on all four individuals and decided to crown Derek as the winner.

He is now up against the winners from the other ITV regions, for the chance to win Pride of Britain Fundraiser of the Year. The person claiming that title will be announced at the Pride of Britain ceremony in London in October.

The other three inspirational Welsh nominees for ITV Cymru Wales Fundraiser of the Year were Olivia Hart, Simon Green and Ali Alcock.

  • Olivia Hart

19-year-old Olivia from Anglesey devotes a huge amount of her life to fundraising or giving back to the community. After her aunt went through chemotherapy and her dad was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2018, Olivia was determined to help others affected by the disease too. 

She has raised around £30,000 for various causes, much of that going to cancer charities. She even started her own 'Chemocare' bag scheme, to help people with the side-effects of chemotherapy. Each bag contains items like lip balms and hand creams. She has given out more than 300 of these bags to date and is hoping to use her beauty pageant platform to raise even more awareness around the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer.

But it is not just fundraising that Olivia is passionate about. She also volunteers, helping out at a local food bank and getting involved with things like beach litter picks.

  • Simon Green

Simon has always fought to improve the lives of others with disabilities, especially through fundraising. Over the past three years, Simon has taken part in around 40 different races, in his wheelchair, for charitable causes.

Despite a terminal brain tumour diagnosis, Simon continues to push himself to do more and even completed the virtual London marathon in 2020 while undergoing chemotherapy. 

Simon's drive to defy odds and help others means he has raised more than £20,000 in total. Part of that money went towards life-changing treatment for his paralysed friend - who has now regained some movement thanks to Simon’s efforts.

Other charities supported by the money Simon’s raised include Whizz-Kidz, the Childhood Tumour Trust and Bridgend Coalition of Disabled People - a group that Simon Chairs.

  • Ali Alcock

Ali Alicock and her family know the pain cancer brings all too well. She's lost two uncles to cancer and been free from the disease herself for the past six years. Her dad was more recently diagnosed with prostate cancer before being given the all clear too.

In 2021, another of Ali's relatives - her cousin Mark - was given the tragic news that he had a terminal brain tumour and he passed away in late-September. His diagnosis made this year's fundraising efforts even more poignant for Ali, who completed a sponsored wing walk for Macmillan in her cousin's name. 

She has raised more than £46,000 for Macmillan over the past five years, almost half of that total has been amassed in this year alone. Just some of the things she has done for charity include coffee mornings, raffles, a sky dive, a kit-off-for-cancer calendar and hikes.