Claire Lomas is cycle 400 miles with nothing but hand power, all in the name of charity. We caught up with her to find out how JustTextGiving and mobile donations are changing fundraising for good...
“It seemed a good idea at the time!” charity campaigner Claire Lomas says with a nervous laugh. She’s talking about the monstrous 400-mile bike ride that she’s currently training for, which will help raise money for Spinal Research and the Nicholls Foundation. It’s a challenge made all the more difficult by the fact that Claire has been paralysed from the waist down since a riding accident in 2007, so we really wanted to find out exactly why she’s got herself into such a difficult ride. And, more importantly, how she’s using technology to boost her fundraising and meet her ambitious target.
“It was a few days after the marathon, and I thought I wanted to do something else.” If the name Claire Lomas rings a bell, it’s probably for one of two reasons: either you saw Claire light the torch for the Paralympic games in London last year, or you saw her complete the London Marathon in a painstaking 17 days.
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Why so long? Well, on both occasions, Claire was wearing a ‘ReWalk‘ robotic suit designed to help paralysed people stand up and walk. This time, though, the suit is staying at home: “My husband’s quite keen on cycling, so he suggested cycling the world – I think he just wanted rid of me for a long time!” Joking aside, it was from that simple discussion that all these months of hard work stem from.
“I wanted to do it for long enough that it was a challenge, and I wanted to tie it in with school visits,” says Claire. “I’d been asked to go to quite a few schools and do talks after the marathon, and I really enjoyed them. They really got behind the fundraising. The kids really responded to my story.”
And it was amidst these visits that Claire’s bike challenge was born. “I just thought, right, we’ll do 400 miles – which is actually further than Paris to London.” That’ll be over the course of three weeks, with Claire riding the equivalent of a marathon each day on a specially adapted bike that lets her arms do all the work.
“Look!” she says pointing at a newly bulging bicep, “that looks quite strong, doesn’t it!” So we can assume that the training’s going pretty well, then? “Training is always the most difficult part of these events by a long way,” she explains. “Just endless training. When I did the marathon, training in the suit was tough, because it wouldn’t just walk for you. Some days I’d take one step and just have to stop. For the cycling, I have to be physically fitter.
“The furthest ride I’ve done in training is 26 miles, but it’s really hilly where I live, and it’s been snowing too.” And that kind of terrain provides a unique problem for Claire: “The hills are really hard. Cycling up a hill’s hard anyway, but you’ve got your weight on your side normally, whereas I can’t use any body weight to push down on the pedals, so it’s all up to my arm muscles. Sometimes I only manage 2mph up a hill.”
But, hill climbs aside, Claire’s in good spirits, adding that her performance on the London marathon far outstripped her training bests “because of the crowds and the atmosphere.” And she’s expecting similar results during her monstrous ride.
Two worthy causes
Claire’s been prolific in raising money for spinal research charities ever since her accident, so we were keen to find out why she’s chosen the ones she has, and exactly where the £100,000 she’s hoping to raise will end up.
“Spinal Research and the Nicholls Foundation are both working on getting a cure for paralysis,” she explains. “Stem cells are the big thing at the moment, and they’re doing really good work.
“I’ve done work with Spinal Research ever since my accident, and I was an ambassador for a sub-section of it called Saddle Up. I first knew about Nicholls Foundation after the 2012 marathon. It’s a small charity, which was set up by David Nicholls after his son became paralysed nine years ago. Not a penny’s wasted there – they really want a cure, and I think they’re doing amazing things.
“I’m trying to raise £100,000,” she says. “The Nicholls Foundation funds a professor. They put all of their money into one professor and fund his research for the year. Spinal Research is a bigger charity, so they’ll spread it out among several projects.”
It’s a noble cause, then, and Claire’s determined to do what she can to help find a permanent cure for paralysis. “If you look back at the first mobile phones they looked like a brick. How we’ve come on is amazing, and I think the ReWalk suit will do the same, but we still need a cure.” £100,000 is no easy sum to ask for, though, which is where – just like the walking suit – technology has come to Claire’s aid…
Tech my money!
“When this started, we were originally going to do Paris to London,” Claire says, “but we weren’t allowed to fundraise over there on the streets.” That’s due to local law in France, which is why her route is now taking place entirely in the UK. See, as Claire knows from her time during the London marathon, one of the best ways to raise money is during the challenge using JustTextGiving (JTG) by Vodafone.
The text-to-give service lets people fire their cash over to worthy causes within seconds, which is why it’s such an important tool. “We used JTG for the marathon initially,” Claire explains. “Someone told me about it, and I went onto the Just Giving website and saw that I could do it. It’s brilliant.”
It’s brilliant, but it’s effective, too: “When I was doing the marathon you could see people stopping, pulling their phones out and texting the number because we had it printed on our T-Shirts. And when I went on BBC Breakfast the text donation numbers went up a huge amount.”
“You could see people stopping, pulling their phones out and texting the number because we had it printed on our T-Shirts.”
We asked Claire to explain why she thinks text donation is so important, and she says it’s all about how long we perceive something like donating money to take: “If you don’t have a lot of time, or don’t have your laptop with you, then the traditional way of donating isn’t perfect. I think there’s a psychological difference in being able to just send a text. Nearly everyone has a phone with them these days. You’re not asking for a big amount, and their phones are there, so they’re more likely to donate.”
She suggests that people can forget to donate if they don’t do it there and then, too: “So often you can intend to donate and think you’ll do it later, but you might not go back and do it. If you’ve got your phone on you, you’ll do it.”
“Technology, and services like JustTextGiving, are hugely beneficial in the world of fundraising,” she adds. “Everyone’s got such busy lives these days, so anything that reduces time and effort for people, and also anything where 100 per cent of the money goes to the charity, is perfect.
“It also helps to let people know that we’re only looking for small donations. If everyone donates a small amount then that suddenly becomes one huge donation.” And that’s how Claire’s hoping to hit her target.
Get involved: To sponsor Claire, text LEGS60 and your desired amount (Eg. ‘LEGS60 £3’) to 70070. You can get all the details on Claire Lomas’ cycling challenge here, and get lots more information on JustTextGiving here – including how to set up your own unique code.