‘Refugees welcome’ message spelt out by cyclists in mammoth challenge

The pair cycle 2,400 kilometres in record fundraising effort

A pair of cyclists in the UK have completed a challenge to spell out "refugees welcome" using a tracking app.

Georgie Cottle, 26, and David Charles, 39, from Thighs of Steel, a community of cyclists, pedalled for more than 2,400 kilometres during the month-long challenge.

They set a Guinness World Record for the largest GPS drawing by bicycle (team) to raise funds for refugee charity Choose Love.

The cycle began on August 17 in St Austell, Cornwall, and ended on September 18 at 7pm on Dover beach, Kent, and they have raised close to £55,000 so far, with the pair thanking the British public for their generosity.

Mr Charles, from Bournemouth, said that he and Ms Cottle, from Glasgow, were “pretty anxious about the final ‘e’” because it was the longest ride of the month (140km), and due to logistical challenges involved in completing a Guinness World Record.

“The positivity of the 30-strong group of cyclists kept us going (and going) over the huge distance and the Kentish hills and through the unexpected heat," Mr Charles said.

“The people of Kent were fantastically generous to us, especially at the start point in Wye and at the finish line in Dover, where we were welcomed on to the beach by a group from Migrant Help, including a family of refugees recently arrived from Syria.

“It was a really meaningful conclusion to a month of hard cycling.”

The pair are keen cyclists and fundraisers. Ms Cottle once rode across America “by accident” and says she has explored much of Scotland, Wales and New Zealand with her trusty Raleigh Capri she calls Sunny. She now works with refugee and asylum seeker communities in Glasgow.

Mr Charles has been cycling for a decade and describes bikes as “the ultimate freedom machine”, which has carried him across continents, “powered by nothing more than a croissant [or seven]”.

“I have also seen the transformational potential of bikes when put into the hands of refugees and asylum seekers, both here in the UK and in places like Calais, Athens, Chios and Samos," he wrote at the start of their journey.

“In many ways, the cycling is the easy bit. Riding big distances every day isn't a champagne and caviar picnic and we've both struggled with excruciating knee pain at various points. But the unfolding situation in Afghanistan has been very much on our minds and in our hearts," the pair wrote at the halfway stage on their JustGiving page.

"It's been really heartening to discover that most people on the streets of Britain not only know what's going on in Afghanistan, but also wish our government was doing more to help. Seeing so many people back up their compassion with hard cash is what makes this bike ride worthwhile.”

Mr Charles later said the success of the challenge was down to “hundreds of ordinary people doing a little something to help”.

“Whether it’s a shopkeeper in South Brent giving us free snacks, a group of hikers on top of Ditchling Beacon emptying their purses into our collection bucket, or a cyclist collapsing in a puddle of sweat on Grateley station platform after riding farther than they ever have before," he said.

“These tiny acts of heroism add up to something a little bit special.

“We won’t ever forget that moment when we swooped down from the clifftops and into Dover, bike bells ringing, to be met by a cheering crowd.”

Despite the challenge being over, Mr Charles said that more can be done to help refugees and “remove the artificial barriers that are thrown up to prevent refugees from getting on with their lives”.

Refugees, he said, were banned from working. "This means that they have to survive on poverty-line government support of £5.66 a day.

“It’s a lose-lose-lose situation because not only does the Government miss out on refugees’ income tax revenue, but our communities also miss out on the useful employment of builders, chefs, scientists, farmers, care workers and other essential professions.”

Donations can still be made, and once the fundraising has finished, Choose Love will decide what refugee projects will be helped thanks to the cyclists.

“This bike ride hasn’t changed the world, but it will change lives,” Mr Charles said.

The Thighs of Steel team are now considering taking part in a London to Athens fundraising relay, which they have completed in the past.

The pair said that the 6,000-km cycling adventure is dependent on Brexit and Covid, but even if it does not happen, they will come up with something “equally awesome”.

Updated: September 22nd 2021, 9:03 AM
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