Westward ho!

The Parish of Wisley with Pyrford in Surrey has supported mission partner Ruth Sayers since January 2018. In June two parishioners, Ian Lamaison and Eldon Sandys, cycled from Pyrford in Surrey to Devonport, Plymouth, to raise money for Ruth’s work. Here they share their story.

It started with a chance encounter. We bumped into each other going in to church one Sunday morning. “We must do a bike ride together sometime?” suggested Ian. We are both keen cyclists and what we had in mind was a ride around our local area.

We were just passing the noticeboard in our church about Ruth Sayers and her work in Devonport. A lightbulb moment came a few minutes later. “Why not ride to Devonport and try to raise money for Ruth’s project there?” And so, in that brief moment, the idea was born.

Ruth is linked to a small church community to be a presence in an area of deprivation and disadvantage brought on by the closure of Devonport’s naval dockyard. She sees lives devastated by unemployment and a sense of feeling forgotten.

Ruth has many roles and a key one is leading a work club, which seeks to help the unemployed through fellowship, practical advice and guidance. A part-time professional employment specialist is provided to facilitate this. The work club costs £6,000 a year to run and we learned that it only had funds to last until the autumn.

Any fundraising idea needs to engage the interest and involvement of potential sponsors – the cause must be recognised as a good one.

That much had already been established by our parish’s decision to support CMS through our collective giving. But we wanted to focus our particular appeal on the need for support for Ruth’s work club. £6,000 seemed too large a sum to raise, but we hoped to make a significant contribution, at least.

To involve sponsors an event also needs to sound like a real challenge. A 250-mile bike ride for two gentlemen past the first flush of youth met that requirement. (Eldon is 75, Ian is 66.)

Ian and Eldon outside St Aubyn’s Church with Ruth (far left) and others working alongside her in Devonport.

Another advantage of a bike ride to Plymouth was that it would help to make the connection between our parish and Ruth’s project in Devonport a little more personal. We would be delivering the money raised in person to where it was needed. Not literally, of course – we weren’t going to cycle all that way with panniers stuffed with banknotes.

But we hoped that the ride, and the attendant publicity, would increase awareness of Ruth’s work within our own congregation and help to make Ruth feel that our parish was thinking of her.

And so the plan was born. We gave it a brand name, Westward Ho!, and set up a website using give.net for donations. Sponsorship forms were designed for those who wanted to pledge support offline and given out in the three churches in our parish. We wrote an article for our parish magazine and sent out a press release to our local media, who gave us some good coverage.

A route and timetable were worked out (Pyrford – nr Winchester – nr Sherborne – Exeter – Plymouth) and accommodation was booked. The plan was to take four days, which younger cyclists might feel is rather generous. We were aware of our advancing years and the realisation that, try as we might to avoid them, large sections of the route would be very hilly. (Ian later calculated that we had climbed around 14,389 feet in total, half the height of Mount Everest!)

We launched the venture at the end of a Sunday morning service by cycling down the aisle of the church dressed in hi-viz jackets and helmets to tell the congregation all about it. We said that we believed God was smiling on our ride because we both felt strongly that this was the case. We invited the congregation to pledge whatever they could in support of Ruth’s work.

We had discussed setting a financial target. Too high, and it may have seemed unrealistic. Too low, and it could seem rather pessimistic.

We settled on £2,000 initially. By the end of that first service hundreds of pounds were donated or pledged by the congregation as they left church. Within a few days the initial target had been reached and thereafter we kept raising it in steady increments on what seemed like a weekly basis.

We even began to think that we might reach £6,000, the sum identified as being needed to keep the work club going. That had seemed unrealistic but, as Ian kept reminding us, when you step out in faith, and God is with you, nothing is impossible.

Two days before we set off we had raised £5,945! And at the time of writing, the bike ride has raised £7,500 when Gift Aid is included.

As for the ride itself, we completed 245 miles in the four days without major mishaps. It didn’t start well, however, as we set off on 10 June in pouring rain which didn’t stop all day. On the final day, between Exeter and Plymouth, even heavier rain fell from first thing until lunchtime and we were riding into a strong headwind.

The unavoidable hills were as numerous and unavoidable as we had anticipated but afforded wonderful views of the glorious countryside. And, as any cyclist will tell you, what goes up (usually) also goes down!

We finally reached Plymouth at 9pm after quite an arduous final day. After a good night’s rest, we cycled to St Aubyn’s Church to meet up with Ruth and many others involved in her project and received a very warm welcome.

Later that day we set off to return home. Could we have cycled all the way back? Perhaps, but after four days in the saddle we let the train take the strain. As the train pulled out of Plymouth station the sun came out, the first time in four days.

If you are planning a creative fundraising idea to raise money for CMS, please let us know at supporter.care@churchmissionsociety.org

Published 23 October 2019
Europe, Middle East and North Africa

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