Gambian trek – from a gym

This Is Wiltshire: Jo Heaven, Peter Beasley and John Matthews, of Empower, who are cycling 4,222 miles to raise money to build a nursery school in The Gambia Jo Heaven, Peter Beasley and John Matthews, of Empower, who are cycling 4,222 miles to raise money to build a nursery school in The Gambia

THE great cycle to The Gambia has started for fundraisers in the town, who are aiming to pedal more than 4,000 miles in four days.

Those squeezing into their lycra are not technically crossing Europe and jumping over to Africa, however. Static bikes at Kiss Gyms, in Princes Street, in the town centre, have been lined up for the mammoth effort co-ordinated by the charity Empower, with various volunteers hopping on and off bikes between 8am and 8pm until Sunday.

The Swindon charity is focussed on projects in rural Gambia, with this latest push in aid of Agape Nursery School, Bansang.

In February last year the charity began building the foundations for the school, which now requires a final £1,600 of investment to be completed.

The school is scheduled to open its doors to Gambian children in April.

Jo Heaven, the founder of Empower, has organised a 4,422-mile challenge for those looking to help and raise money.

The distance has been measured as a journey from the UK to The Gambia, around the perimeter of the African nation and back again.

The project will cost £8,400 in total, with significant donations last year getting Empower most of the way.

Swindon Community Church made a donation of £2,500, which paid for the school’s roof. There have also been fashion nights held at Swindon Town FC, which have attracted quite the following, according to Jo.

“We need lots and lots of people to come down over the next few days if we are going to get near the total,” she said.

“It’s a perfect chance for people to start their fitness kick in the New Year.

“We may not get the full distance, but we will do our very best.

“If you don’t even try, you will never know.

“We have had a lot of interest from gym goers, but we always need more helpers to come along and help.”

The charity started out after Jo, in her full-time job as student experience manager at Swindon College, took a group of students to The Gambia in 2008.

Jo was inspired by the people she met there and felt the modest amount of money needed to affect change was enough to begin a proper charity drive.

“When we took the students out there, we thought it would be nice to do a project which benefited the children,” she said.

“I realised it would not be that hard to find teachers, nurses and vets we could take out there and train the locals.

“Once we saw the keenness to help people out there we took it on to the next stage with building a school.”

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