‘Children can make a difference’: Devon boy ends three-year charity camp-out

When he began his camping adventure, Max Woosey imagined he would spend a few weeks sleeping in his new tent and raise a few hundred pounds for a good cause.

Three years on, after surviving fierce winds, sub-zero temperatures and an awful lot of rain, 13-year-old Max’s efforts have earned more than three-quarters of a million pounds for a hospice and given him unexpected fame – but he has finally decided it is time to put a solid roof back over his head and clamber into a proper bed.

One reason for the keen rugby player’s decision is the realisation that a comfy bed may be a better option after he has been battered in training or a game. “I’ll probably get a better sleep inside and after a match you just want to get into bed and recover,” he said. “In a tent that doesn’t always happen.”

But Max told the Guardian (during his final photoshoot of many in the garden of the family home in north Devon) that it was also about identity. He has become so synonymous with his unconventional sleeping arrangements that letters addressed to “The boy in the tent, Braunton” reach him.

“I’ve loved all the experiences I got from it but it will be nice to be known as Max rather than the boy in the tent,” he said. “At school some people don’t know my name; they come up and say, you’re the kid that sleeps in the tent. It will be nice to be known as more than the boy in the tent.”

The marathon began in early 2020 when Max’s mother and father, Rachael and Mark Woosey, were helping to care for a neighbour, Rick Abbott, who had terminal cancer.

The Woosey family saw first-hand how the support of North Devon hospice helped their neighbour remain in his own home and, shortly before he died, Abbott gave Max his tent and told him to have an adventure with it.

When the first national lockdown was announced in March 2020 and it became clear the hospice would suffer a financial hit, Max decided to use the tent for a fundraising camp-out. But it went on and on. with the hospice saying he has raised enough money to cover 15 hospice community nurses for a year.

His adventure grabbed the public’s imagination at a gloomy time and he was invited to camp at spots ranging from Downing Street to London Zoo and Twickenham stadium. He has given a Ted Talk, been awarded a British Empire Medal and this week learned he had broken a Guinness world record for “most money raised by camping (individual)”.

Max said he hoped his camp-out had shown that children could achieve wonderful things and were worth listening to. “I think it’s important that children have the right to speak out and have an impact on the world. There are lots of children doing brilliant things across the world, that are helping improve lives and it’s important to recognise that. Children really can make a difference and change the world, even from their own back garden.”

Max, who was often kept company by the family labradoodle, Digby, has got through 26 tents and found that, generally, hot sunshine was more challenging than strong wind or rain. He was spending Friday night in the family garden, before taking part in a celebratory camp-out festival at a nearby country estate on Saturday 1 April to round off his campaign.

A furniture store, Barrow Clark Furnishers from nearby Barnstaple, has supplied his new bed but there may be a transition period before he gets into it. “I’m going to try the bed and I may fall in love with it straight away,” Max said. “But it may take me a few nights to get used to it. If so, I’ll have to sleep on the floor and gradually work my way up.”

Rachael Woosey said he would sleep in a converted attic. “It tends to be freezing or boiling – just like a tent actually.” She has watched her “lovely little 10-year-old son” grow 10 inches into a strapping teenager with a deep voice over the past three years.

“But it’s so much more than that. We’ve watched him evolve into this kind lad who wants to do the right thing. I don’t think you can get much better than that.”

Mark Woosey, a Royal Marine, said he was proud and excited to imagine the new adventures Max and the family would now have. “I’m excited that he won’t feel tied to his tent now. I think his story shows there is hope – we can make a difference to the world if we all do our bit.”