Trade welfare charity Caravan is gearing up to celebrate the 25th anniversary in May next year of The Windermere Row - a gruelling 10-and-a-half-mile row from end to end of Lake Windermere in Cumbria.

The event aims to raise money for more than 1,300 former grocery workers who have fallen on hard times - and event organiser Eric Mackay says that as well as being a worthwhile cause, it's also a lot of fun.

Mackay, who is managing director of wine importing company w3 and production process solutions company MSL, has been an organiser of the event since 1988. "I took part in the event in 1987 and 1988 and when I saw the format, I thought we could make it into a weekend bash as an alternative to Caravan's gala dinners," he says.

The event was launched in 1983 as a low-key challenge to row Lake Windermere and since then has evolved from a field of 60 people to more than 360, complete with themed evening entertainment. Mackay says that, as organiser, his job can involve anything from "choosing the theme to donating paracetamol the next morning".

"My role is like that of a parent whose children have left home," he says. "I make sure that when they 'come home' the venue is as they remembered, the food and drink is spot on and that the fun is plentiful. There are a number of hard-core diehards who first took part in their mid-20s and have grown up with the event."

He also has some fond memories of the event, such as the sight of 300 senior grocery workers dressed in Blues Brothers outfits joining in the chorus to Mustang Sally, or the numerous rowing boats that have taken zig-zag routes across the lake, closely followed by St John Ambulance, the lake warden and the lake police.

Caravan hopes that next year's Windermere Row will push the event through the £1m total fundraising barrier. Money raised from previous events has been used to provide each of Caravan's beneficiaries £726 a year in quarterly payments. As well as quarterly payments, Caravan also replaces broken household items for its beneficiaries and provides stairlifts, mobility chairs and alarm systems so beneficiaries can remain independent.

"The Windermere Row is a fantastic way to raise money, completely shatter yourself and then party away the aches and pains," says Mackay.