Ride London-Surrey from both sides of the fence

It’s 10am on a Sunday morning in June 2013.  I am sat, clad in lycra, in Richmond Park in south west London,  my new road bike lying on the grass next me. I am hot, tired, pretty hacked off and only half way through today’s 60 mile training ride. In less then 8 weeks I will be riding in the first Ride London-Surrey 100: a 100 mile bike ride from the Olympic Stadium, up several huge hills including Box Hill, and back to finish in the Mall.

 I regard the spectacularly unappetising energy bar I’m holding. One thought hammers through my brain. What on earth made you think you could do this?

When Ride London-Surrey was announced in August 2012, a mass participation closed-roads cycling event, fuelled by the burgeoning public enthusiasm for the sport created by the 2012 success of Brad Wiggins, Chris Hoy and Laura Trott, seemed the perfect fundraising opportunity.

At Anthony Nolan, we were keen to invest in the race and build as big a team as possible. We were fortunate to be one of the charities to secure guaranteed places for the race, which we filled quickly as our supporters showed fantastic interest. From the start, we decided to approach the race as we do the London Marathon.  So we provided a full support package for our riders: retention calls, an information day led by cycling experts, training, nutrition and fundraising advice and brand new Anthony Nolan cycling tops.  We took a stand at the race exhibition, giving us a great chance to chat to our riders. On race day, we had 3 very loud cheer points around the course and a post race reception with massage, food and congratulations from our CEO.

For me as a Fundraising Director it was fascinating to be on the other side of the fence: not cheering on event participants but taking on the challenge myself. As a participant I felt Ride London-Surrey did a great job, particularly given the scale of the logistical challenge. Pre-event information was useful and timely; the route was brilliantly marshalled; and the mechanical/medical/food support during the race was excellent. Initially the crowds weren’t as numerous as the London Marathon but we got great pockets of support in the Surrey villages, Kingston and Wimbledon. And from the Houses of Parliament to the finish in the Mall the crowds were huge and loud.

But before, during and after the race I’ve been a bit surprised by the approach of the fundraising sector to the event. Some charities (notably some who might be regarded as small charities) had a highly visible profile before the event and on race day and were giving great support to their participants. However, overall there were far fewer charities at the pre-race Exhibition than for the London Marathon; there were charity cheer points on the route but noticeably fewer than for other events and concentrated in Kingston (which the route passed through twice). I spotted only a handful of charities offered a post race reception. As a sector, it seemed as if people were taking a cautious approach to the event in year one.

For Anthony Nolan, Ride London-Surrey was a huge success and is a top priority for us going forward. We’ve had fantastic feedback from our riders on the event. We’re seeing strong demand for our 2014 places.  Our race day film was a big hit with our riders

We’ve smashed our income target, doubling our projected income for the event and getting fantastic average income per rider.

As Fundraisers, we know that participants raising money for charity delivers great benefits for those events. The participants’ reasons for taking part drive media coverage. The charity cheer points add hugely to the spectator and participant experience and race day atmosphere. And in return, events still deliver fantastic income for charities, and can enable us to build excellent long term relationships with our participants.

I believe Ride-London Surrey is a brilliant opportunity for the fundraising sector, at a time when we’re facing tough challenges. If your charity has the opportunity to invest in guaranteed places for future years, I would really recommend it. And I hope that as a sector we maximise the opportunity we’ve been offered by the race organisers and do everything we can to help build this event to the fundraising level it can undoubtedly achieve. We won’t get many better chances than this. Let’s make the most of it.

It’s Sunday 4 August, about 3.45pm. I’m riding along Embankment coming up to the Houses of Parliament. I can hear a huge wave of noise coming towards me as I reach the crowds. I pass the 500m to go sign. I’m grinning like an idiot ‘You’re actually going to do this. You’re going to finish.’

Ride London pic

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