On Monday I will hop onto a train and then into a car and travel down to St Austell for the beginning of the second longest bike ride of my life and the first that has required more than a few days’ planning.
Spell It Out, a 2,400km world record-breaking ride across the south of England, began as a hypothetical exercise during the Thighs of Steel Adventure Inventor application process back in March. Finally, after five months of intense communication, organisation and logistics, the cycling begins.
It’s a huge relief.
Compared to the uncertainty of sitting in front of a computer screen trying to convince people to go on a long bike ride, actually going on that long bike ride will feel like a doddle. Even when the elevation chart looks like this:
Since we launched the Spell It Out fundraiser in May, over fifty cyclists have collectively raised more than £24,600 for Choose Love. We’re still some way off our target of £100,000, but I can feel the momentum building: we’ve raised nearly a grand in the past twenty-four hours.
I had an interesting chat this morning with a friend who works for Fat Macy’s, a wonderful social enterprise currently raising funds to open a new training academy in East London.
We were talking about how charities, social enterprises and other projects that do what we called ‘meaningful work’ get funding, bemoaning the fact that it often depends on the indulgence of wealthy individuals or companies.
‘High net worth’ funders are the lifeblood of many charities and their directors and trustees will spend a significant amount of their time schmoozing with those who have spent their lives earning the big bucks and now want to ‘give something back’.
Thighs of Steel has always been different. We don’t actively seek wealthy backers and we deliberately set our ticket prices low, widening participation to include people who are unlikely to have high net worth networks of privilege.
We think it is important that we have ninety cyclists with big hearts rather than ten cyclists with deep pockets.
Because human beings are important.
Researching this story earlier today, I was struck by the words of lawyer Jack Pelele, writing on Refugee Action about his experience as a refugee in the UK asylum system:
We must remember that behind our numbers and the fateful journeys we go through, we are people who have dreams, identify ourselves as human beings who were once useful to ourselves and our communities and can still be. Our value and worth do not end in victimhood or burden to those from whom we seek sanctuary.
Hang on — ‘we identify ourselves as human beings’ — I’m sorry, but how othered do you have to feel before you find yourself forced to assert your very humanity?
Well, funny you should ask. You see, Spell It Out has taken on a whole new level of urgency in recent weeks, as the government pushes forward with its barbaric overhaul of the asylum system.
If it passes without amendment, the Nationality and Borders Bill will put UK law in direct opposition to the 1951 Geneva Convention by criminalising people who arrive on these shores without a visa — even when they have a legitimate claim for asylum under international law.
In practice, there are no legal routes to asylum in the UK. And the only alternatives to legal routes to asylum are illegal. This government, and the right wing press, depend on this tauntology to justify their existence.
Tightening border control forces people into ever more desperate and dangerous routes to safety and the proposed bill will not only criminalise refugees themselves, but also any organisations or individuals who try to offer them safe harbour — including the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
And this comes on top of an asylum system that is already founded on detention and destitution.
How’s that for othering?
Thighs of Steel aren’t politicians, we’re not law-makers — we’re cyclists.
Over the next month, forty more cyclists will hit the road and help us create the world’s largest ever GPS drawing, on a route that spells out ‘Refugees Welcome’ from Cornwall to Kent.
Without big money backers, our ninety-plus cyclists depend on a solidarity network of hundreds, thousands of friends and followers stumping up £5, £10, £50 of their hard-earned.
It’s true that one millionaire can single-handedly transform the fortunes of a struggling project stripped of funding by the pandemic.
But thousands of small-time donors generate enough energy to show the world that the people of Britain still believe in compassion to those facing tragedy.
We think that’s important.
Because we also identify as human beings.
Many thanks to everyone who are making Spell It Out possible: the hard-working Thighs of Steel clan; the hosts we’ll be staying with, from Warmshowers and Workaways to farmers and friends; St Austell Holy Trinity Church for helping us with our Grand Depart and Migrant Help for meeting us at the finish line in Dover.
And, of course, bottomless thanks to the ninety-plus Thighs of Steel cyclists — and their donors — who are doing what they can.