Churches trust marks 25th year of bike ride

Rachel Buller It's time to get on your bike for a great cause. The Norfolk Churches Trust Bicycle Ride celebrates its 25th anniversary this weekend. Not only does it raise money to help preserve some of Norfolk's most iconic buildings, it's a chance to get out and enjoy our heritage.

Rachel Buller

It started as a simple idea to raise money for some our most iconic and historic buildings while at the same time giving the public the chance to visit them and enjoy some of our beautiful local countryside.

Now, a quarter of a century on, the Norfolk Churches Trust bicycle ride has grown into a major annual event raising thousands of pounds and attracting participants of all ages from across the country.

This year it celebrates its 25th anniversary and organisers are hoping to beat the record-breaking £138,000 raised last year when riders climb into the saddle on Saturday to explore some of the hundreds of wonderful churches large and small which grace our county.

The Norfolk Churches Trust was founded in 1976 and gives grants to churches and chapels towards repair and restoration - to date it has given funding to more than 580 churches totalling more than £3.6m.

Riders taking part in the event can create their own route and choose to visit as many churches as they want between 9am and 5pm - getting sponsored for their efforts.

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The money raised by each cyclist is shared equally between the trust and the place of worship that he or she has nominated.

One of the organisers, Geoff Wortley, said the reason the bicycle ride was so popular was that it gave people the chance not only to get out and enjoy the countryside, but also to visit beautiful churches which they might not otherwise have the opportunity to see inside.

“People at the Churches Trust nationally thought it would be a great idea to open all the churches to everyone on one day every year. That was 26 years ago and we picked the idea up quickly here in Norfolk and have been running it ever since.

“It has grown in terms of the number of the churches opening their doors and also the number of people participating. We have had horses, tricycles, tandems and all sorts taking part. As long as it isn't motorised, it doesn't matter.

“The important thing to remember is that the Churches Trust provides money for repairs and restoration of the actual building; we are not providing money for what goes on in the churches or activities. It is for the fabric of the building.

“A lot of people who take part know the churches and probably use them regularly, but there are others who probably don't have any particular interest in their local church or attend it but equally they do not want to lose it and they understand its importance as a historic building and part of the community,” he said.

“In rural areas they are often the only public buildings there are in a village. The pub has gone, the post office has gone, there is no village shop. They don't want to see it disappear.”

There will be around 815 places of worship in Norfolk open for the day, including some interesting ruined churches, and it is this which is as important as the bike ride itself.

“A lot of the churches now are locked the majority of the time due to vandalism and they are often only open for short periods every week for services. We are giving people the chance to see as many churches as they want on one day when they will all be open.”

There will be volunteers at most of the buildings offering information about their history and on hand to answer questions and to stamp your card to show you have visited. Some will also have light refreshments on offer.

Although Mr Wortley said they were keen not to overstate the competitiveness of the event and that it was “not a road race”, for many people it was a personal challenge.

“You can turn the bicycle ride into a real challenge and what better time to push yourself than after winning so many medals in the Olympics? This is the National Churches Trust Olympics, but you get to raise money for a good cause along the way and visit some incredible buildings that you might not otherwise get the chance to enjoy.

“We had a family last year who did 32 churches in one day and I think they are aiming for more this year. If you pick a route and you decide I am going to cycle in this particular area, such as Yarmouth, then it is possible to get to a lot of churches. In more rural areas, then you might have to be a bit more realistic as they are often spread much further apart. For some people, though, the challenge is managing five or six churches - it is up to each individual,” he said.

The event is a real family event, with many people choosing to go out in big groups, stopping for a picnic at lunch and ending the day with a barbeque.

Because this year is the 25th anniversary, the ride will have some extra special glitz, with participants asked to wear something silver. They will also be given silver anniversary badges to put on as they cycle around the county.

t It isn't too late to enter and start getting sponsorship. Entry forms and information are available from the Norfolk Churches Trust on 01603 767576, and the EDP is also backing the event this year so you can download sponsorship forms and a list of the churches taking part online at www.edp24.co.uk/bicycleride.

t After the ride, the trust is also keen to receive summaries of the day and photos from participants by e-mail at info@norfolkchurches.co.uk.

HORSE AND CART

For Gerald Blake from Worthing, there is only one way to take part in the Norfolk Churches Trust bicycle ride - and that is by horse and cart.

The 80-year-old entered the event for the first time last year and plans to harness up his horses and head out on a different route on Saturday with his four-wheel dog cart.

“Last year, we did 10 churches in all, about 12 miles, around Dereham, Gressenhall, Hoe, Elmham and Worthing. I thought it would be fun to take out the horse and cart and, besides, I'm too old to cycle,” he laughed. “I wanted to raise money for the local churches and I thought it would benefit the community. Last year, myself and the lady I rode with, Christine Wilson from Mattishall, raised more than £400 and I want to raise more this time. I was church warden for my local church in Worthing for many years, so I know how important it is to raise money to look after our churches.

“This year I am taking a different route round the villages, about 20 miles, and I am going to do 10 miles with one horse and 10 with the other. It is a lovely ride on the cart and you are sat up really high, so you get some great views,” he said.

LAURA'S CHALLENGE

Laura Grace is determined to play a role in protecting and preserving the county's incredible churches - despite knowing she will never see them herself.

The 22-year-old from Munford is blind but doesn't see that as any barrier to taking part in this year's Norfolk Churches Trust bicycle ride.

Last year, she visited five churches and raised £270 on the back of her tandem - a total she is determined to eclipse this year.

“I didn't start riding the tandem that long ago but I love it. I first went out with the Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Blind and it was really good so we decided maybe we should have our own tandem. Dad is the pilot. I think he has fun doing it and is pretty good.

“Surprisingly I didn't find it too daunting, but it did take me a while to get used to pedalling on the back.

“Because I am a Christian who goes to church every week, I really wanted to raise money for the churches so they can be preserved for the future. When I heard about the bike ride I was determined to do it,” she explained.

“I am really pleased to be doing it and it is a real challenge. It also proves that just because you have a disability it doesn't stop you from doing what you want to do. Just because you are blind doesn't mean you can't ride a bike.

“I managed five churches last year, and I am hoping to do more this year, and to raise more money. It didn't feel too bad to start with but it took me all day and I could feel it at the end. It felt like a long way.

“I am planning to do a lot more cycling and am gradually building up my distances. I enjoy riding as a hobby and it is nice to have some freedom, to be able to get out in the countryside to lovely places,” she said.

GARDENING EVENT

If cycling isn't quite your thing, then there is another way you can help give vital funds to the Norfolk Churches Trust this weekend.

On Sunday, September 13, a giant charity gardening sale is taking place in the grounds of Sennowe Park at Guist. There will be around 12,000 plants from around Norfolk on sale including trees, border plants, grasses and shrubs as well as lots of edible produce. There will also be stalls selling stone urns, iron and leadwork and ceramic pots, as well as catering. There will be three lecturers featuring some of our best known gardeners and garden designers.

At 11am, Chelsea gold medallist George Carter will give a talk, followed by EDP contributor and gardener Alan Gray at 12.30pm and Simon White from Peter Beales Roses at 2pm. The talks cost £5 each or £10 for all three.

All proceeds on the day will go to the Norfolk Churches Trust.

The event, sponsored by Kett Country Cottages in Fakenham, will take place at Sennowe Park between 10am and 4pm. Entry is £5 per car.