Challenge Anneka review – she’s back and it’s like she has never been away | Television

Almost 30 years since the last series, Challenge Anneka is back for a bite of that big nostalgia pie. Perhaps you remember it. Perhaps, like one of the people Anneka Rice gets on the phone in an attempt to blag some building materials, it means nothing to you at all. Still, here she is again, in a helicopter, flying over a field in Essex, shouting “gosh!” a lot, trying to make people’s lives better by agreeing to do an enormous job in an incredibly tight period of time. Challenge Anneka walked so DIY SOS could run, and now it’s back and it deserves its credit.

The helicopter, its most iconic feature, pushes the same retro buttons as the theme tune, but it turns out to be a bit pointless. Rice flies into the sky in order to read a giant “challenge card” laid out in a field, which she has to use binoculars to read, and which poses the question of why they didn’t show her a normal-sized card, on the ground, because she could have just used a pair of reading specs and saved everyone the fuel. Still! It’s a nod to the original, and they’re so confident that this is for people who loved the original that they don’t even bother explaining what is going on.

There’s no need to. It is all self-explanatory and hits the ground running. Rice agrees to get the impossible done, helping a charity or organisation in their hour of need, pulling together volunteers, donations and a load of elbow grease, ending up with a truly amazing achievement that leaves a wonderful feelgood glow in the belly. It knows what it’s doing, it rolls up its sleeves and gets on with the job.

In the first episode, Rice is invited to help Foal Farm animal rescue centre, in Kent, upgrade and improve its kennels setup, in honour of the charity’s 60th anniversary. The buildings have seen better days, it is becoming increasingly hard to regulate the temperature for the animals in their uninsulated sheds, and they need a grooming room that can accommodate bigger dogs. As Rice is shown around by one of the volunteers, she doesn’t hold back; her bluntness is one of the only aspects of this that makes it seem like a relic of a different time. “Yes, that’s quite bleak,” she says, and, “Gosh, it’s all quite rickety, is my first impression, to be honest.”

Rickety it may be, but the staff at Foal Farm are desperate to improve the lives of the dogs they take in, and this is clearly an emotional project for them. So Rice and her team essentially start to rebuild it from the ground up. To do so, they need everything from building materials to specialist equipment, as well as the skilled labourers who can put it all together in just three days. The dogs are moved out, and the volunteers move in. Rice visits the local radio station to put out an appeal and even gets on the phone, asking for goods and skilled labourers to get involved. “My name is Anneka Rice, from the Challenge Anneka programme. Are you familiar with it?” she asks. “Not really, no,” replies a young person on the other end of the line.

But enough people are familiar with it, and much like DIY SOS and similar shows, the joy is in watching hundreds of people pitch in to do a good deed for the community. It is quite wonderful, in the current climate, how many people are willing to donate to a charitable cause, and Rice and the team are clearly good at harnessing the troops and asking for what they need.

It is odd for a show that was so of its time, and that has not been on air since 1995 (save for two specials on ITV, one in 2006, the other in 2007), to feel as if it has never really been away, but Challenge Anneka slots back into the schedules perfectly well. There are three more episodes to come, involving a community food hub, a “memory village” project to help people with dementia, and a centre for vulnerable teens. Perhaps the show is only needed at the tail end of a period of Conservative rule. Perhaps it should have a new subtitle: Picking Up Tory Slack.

It does run a bit long and there are all sorts of slightly extraneous bits, such as the creation of doggy artwork for the walls, or a photoshoot with accidental stars Bubba and Lightning, an unlikely duo of terrier and lurcher (I think) who must be rehomed together. It takes a harder heart than mine to mind though, and this is only a minor quibble. At the end I was beaming at what they had achieved, and it wasn’t only the Foal Farm staff who had a little something in their eye.