Thetford forest Ride for Life launched
Each summer, hundreds of loyal supporters of a well-loved charity dust down their bikes to take part in one of Norfolk's favourite annual fundraisers.The Ride for Life - a series of cycle rides around Thetford Forest - sees families return year after year because of its friendly, non-competitive atmosphere and the huge difference it makes for some of the region's sickest children.
Each summer, hundreds of loyal supporters of a well-loved charity dust down their bikes to take part in one of Norfolk's favourite annual fundraisers.
The Ride for Life - a series of cycle rides around Thetford Forest - sees families return year after year because of its friendly, non-competitive atmosphere and the huge difference it makes for some of the region's sickest children.
Now in its 16th year, the event in aid of East Anglia's Children's Hospices (Each) has raised �563,000 for its hospices at Quidenham, Ipswich and Milton, near Cambridge.
And, since the very beginning, the same band of volunteers have got together to ensure the smooth-running of Ride for Life - a testament to the loyalty and affection that the good cause inspires.
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Route-planning, ensuring they have enough route marshals and even harvesting schedules have to be taken in to consideration by the committee, which met to plan Ride of Life 2009 as soon as last year's was over.
Servicemen and women from USAF Mildenhall, who offer support on the day, only missed a Ride for Life when they were on active duty in the Gulf.
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This year it falls on Sunday, May 17 and offers something for all ages and abilities, with on and off-road bicycle rides of 10 to 35 miles and walks of three and nine miles from the village of Santon Downham.
But the very first ride in 1994, as committee chairman David White recalled, was a much smaller affair which nevertheless brought in an impressive �14,000 for Each.
“We really thought it would be a one off. My wife and I ran Quidenham post office and tea shop and Nick and Shirley Deal, whose daughter, Stacey, was at the hospice, were our first ever customers. Nick said he was doing a bike ride that year for the hospice movement, and I was quite a keen cyclist, so we suggested doing a ride the following year for Quidenham,” he said.
“I was thinking of organising it when I heard that Nick's daughter had died and I thought he would have lost interest - but he and his wife wanted to do something as a memorial to Stacey.
“We set up a circular route from Eccles Hall School and some people did a very long ride of 90 miles from a hospice in Southend to Quidenham. We decided to do it every year and in the third year we moved to Thetford Forest.”
But, even though the ride has expanded and raises about four times as much as the inaugural event, it has retained its community spirit.
“I think people like it because it's such good fun, it's a good family day and it's not a physically testing ride so people can do it with their children,” added Mr White.
“The emphasis is on families supporting families and the very young and the very old can all take part.
“It's lovely to see all the children whether on their own bikes trying to keep up with mum and dad, or being towed along, everyone comes together for a good cause. And we've never had a really bad year with weather, either.”
Each helps life-limited children and their families with complex healthcare needs and the emotional and physical challenges they face.
This year it is anticipated that it will cost around �5.5m to run all three hospice services, 75pc of which will have to come from voluntary donations.
To register for Ride for Life, enter online at www.each.org.uk or call 01953 715559 for an entry form. Entry costs �8 for adults and �4 for children, with reduced rates for families, teams and walkers.