Earlier this year we committed €1 million through our Explore Fund to support the companies, organisations, communities and individuals that make exploration possible. One of those organisations is Sunderland Wall, one of the UK’s largest indoor climbing centres with a long history of supporting active lifestyles in the local community. To find out more we sat down with Ashleigh Loughlin, senior instructor at Sunderland Wall.



Sport has the power to unite; to bring together people from all walks of life. Climbing is no exception. In theory. But often the barriers to entry – costs, misconceptions, media representation – result in climbing walls being seen as barriers rather than opportunities.

Sunderland Wall, a climbing centre in the heart of North East England, is trying to change this.

“It’s important to us that anyone can feel like they can walk through our doors and start something new,” explains Ashleigh. “We truly believe that climbing is one of, if not the best way to connect with yourself, improve your mental and physical health, have fun and meet new people. We want to be able to give everyone the opportunity to do that.”






Through its climbing skills and educational programmes it takes much of the fear away from getting started. Group, rather than private, lessons bring people together and doing something challenging and, let’s face it, pretty scary first-time round, is the ideal way for people of different backgrounds to bond. Climbing has manifested into welcome respite for people going through difficult moments in their personal lives. 

“Climbing can have a massive impact and effect on people, often unexpectedly. We believe it improves quality of life and your physical and mental wellbeing. You learn new things about yourself and improve on certain areas you didn’t realise you could, all while socialising and meeting new people and sharing new experiences.”

Through its mobile climbing tower, Sunderland Wall has been able to bring climbing to communities that otherwise couldn’t access it, such as local schools and charities. By giving people a taster of what climbing has to offer, it hopes to inspire a long-lasting relationship with climbing, one that can lead to new friendships, greater confidence and deeper empathy.

But the Covid-19 lockdown in the UK brought all of Sunderland Wall’s work to a halt.

“Back in March, we had to close our doors for the first time ever, except Christmas day, to prepare for lockdown. This had a massive impact on us – we didn’t know how long it would go on for and, like everybody else, we didn’t know if there was going to be a light at the end of the tunnel and whether we’d come out on the other side,” says Ashleigh.





Thanks to the support of the Explore Fund, Sunderland Wall has been able to use its mobile climbing tower to reach those otherwise locked out from climbing and to help keep the local community active, bringing some semblance of hope and positivity in uncertain times.

Ashleigh and the team are working with local charities to use climbing as a medium to overcome mental and physical health challenges and to bring a sense of fun back into the community.

“We try to encourage people from all walks of life, with a range of abilities to try climbing and see where it takes them on their own personal journey.  We hope to continue to do that for as long as we can and encourage people to find themselves and do something they love.”




The story of Sunderland Wall is one of many. Through the extra Covid-19 funding of the Explore Fund we’ve been able to help more than 20 different organisations and groups that make exploration possible. Here are three more of those stories: