A cycle challenge by former British Touring Car Championship racer Paul O’Neill, to raise vital funds for Halton Haven Hospice has entered its final week, and is now on course to raise ten times the original target.
The cancellation of a fundraising walk across Morecambe Bay in late June due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic left Halton Haven Hospice facing a shortfall in vital funds that allow it to provide valuable support to the local community.
Paul has been a long-time supporter of Halton Haven after it cared for his late brother and decided to try and do something to help – asking seven friends to join him on a 2,000 mile cycle ride covering the same distance as the 250 people who would have taken part in the Morecambe Bay event.
‘Team O’Neill’ initially aimed to raise £2,500 but that target was soon raised to £5,000; a figure that was quickly surpassed after one local resident donated that amount in its entirety.
As the ride has gone on, a number of guest riders have joined the team to complete 25 miles in support, including racing drivers Jade Edwards and Jack Goff, Olympic cyclist Chris Hoy and Paul’s sister; former Spice Girl Melanie C.
TV commentator Steve Rider even auctioned some of his most prized possessions from a long broadcasting career to boost funds.
Throughout the ride, followers have keep up with the team thanks to a series of videos on social media, which have documented their trips across England and Switzerland, where one team member now lives.
Whilst some members of the team have personal links to the Hospice, others have simply been keen to support the cause, with the amount raised now nearing £25,000.
For the final leg of the event, the format of the challenge will now change, with Paul completing a further seven rides of 25 miles before Team O’Neill takes a short break from action ahead of a grand finale on Sunday 28 June – the day that the Morecambe Bay walk was due to take place.
That finale will see Paul and three of the original Team O’Neill members cycle the 75 miles from Morecambe back to Halton Haven Hospice alongside championship winning GT driver Rob Bell, who will be the latest guest addition to the line-up. Rob is cycling in memory of his Nan who passed away in a Hospice in the North East.
Mark Rowse, originally from Widnes, but now living in Switzerland will complete the Union Cycliste Internationale at the same time as the team are completing the final leg in the UK. Mark is riding in memory of his Mum who also used the services of Halton Haven.
Paul said:‘As the final leg starts it really has been an incredible journey for everyone involved. We set out to raise what we could for the Hospice but the byproduct of this has been new friendships, community spirit and love.’
“Let’s give it the final it deserves!”
The event has been a challenging and also emotional journey. Fundraising Lead, Ann Hedley said:‘Paul and the team have done an amazing job. The Halton community and the motorsports community have truly come together to raise almost £25,000. That’s an incredible amount of money for us. We’re a small charity and this is actually a game changer for us. I can’t thank them enough.’
The Hospice are hoping that the community will continue their support by giving the guys the boost that they will need to complete the last part of this challenge. The full cycle route can be found at: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/33021139 and they’re inviting people to clap them in from the pavement along the route back to the Hospice. Please do observe social distancing regulations and stay away from the cyclists as they pass.*
Team O’Neill will not only have racked up 2,000 miles and raised funds for the Hospice but has also boosted awareness of the vital work Halton Haven carries out, and the support it has long provided to the local community.
To donate to Team O’Neill’s challenge, visit the JustGiving page at: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/paul-o-neill29. Alternatively to donate £10 Text ONEILL to 70085. Texts cost £10 plus one standard rate message and you’ll be opting in to hear more about Halton Haven’s work and fundraising via telephone and SMS. If you’d like to give £10 but do not wish to receive marketing communications, text ONEILLNOINFO to 70085.
* Due to social distancing rules only the invited family of the riders will be allowed onsite at the Hospice. This decision has been made to keep people safe and to remain within Covid 19 regulations.
Leg 1 & 8 – Paul O’Neill, Widnes Leg 2 – Ross Clark, Widnes
Leg 3 – Mark Rowse, Switzerland Leg 4 – Matt Salisbury, Wigan
Leg 5 – Gareth Hartley, Wigan Leg 6 – Paul Tolen, Wigan & James Parr, St Helen’s
Leg 7 – Chris Hodges, Reading & Peter Willacy, Widnes
Grand Finale – Paul O’Neill, Ross Clark, Matt Salisbury, Paul Tolen, Rob Bell and in Switzerland, Mark Rowse