Matthew Willis with his Kona Jake

Matthew Willis with his Kona Jake ready to tackle the London to Paris charity bike ride in support of the Big Issue Foundation

The idea of cycling for charity came to me, via an acquaintance, shortly after I had returned to London from a long ride that took me from England across Europe to Turkey. I was fresh out of university, sleeping on a friend’s couch and looking for a job, and the challenge of raising £1300 as part of riding from London to Paris for the Big Issue Foundation seemed like an unnecessary test given the other things on my plate. “You’re going to have to let this one go,” I recall thinking to myself.

But the idea kept on niggling at me. I’d encountered the Big Issue Foundation (BIF) shortly after moving to London to pursue my Masters, and soon began making a point of buying the Big Issue magazine from the homeless and vulnerably-housed vendors I passed regularly on my way to the university. After reading a few issues, I realised the BIF was about more than just selling magazines; it provided support and assistance to vendors in areas like job-training, healthcare and personal finance, reaching several hundred people across the UK. I’d never been supportive of panhandlers, but these people were doing honest work to help themselves and get their lives back on the right track. I admired their tenacity and, in almost every case, their good spirits. I didn’t want to abandon the idea of raising money for the Big Issue, and I felt that if I simply paid the registration fee and committed to the work, I would find a way to do it.

It’s been six months, the ride is just under ten days away, and I’ve now raised more than £1600 through the generosity of family and friends. After surpassing the £1300 mark, my goal became to hit £2000, and Kona has given me a hand up by donating a World Bike as the prize for a raffle I hope will put me over the top. I approached Kona after reading about its Basic Needs Program, which helps improve the quality of life of disadvantaged people living in Africa. Although the BIF’s objective and Kona’s weren’t exactly the same, they were animated by the same spirit, and I was grateful when Kona agreed to help me with my fundraising.

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting a series of entries and photos describing my experiences in the lead-up to, and during, the Big Issue Foundation’s London-to-Paris charity bike ride. Taking place on July 22, 23 and 24, the ride will cover 230 miles of English and French countryside, finishing in Paris’s seventeenth district on the evening of the third day. For those with energy left over, the Tour de France will be pulling into the city the next day, and I understand you need to camp out overnight to get a good view!