Many of you will know that Phil Clare, our Provincial Grand Charity Steward, is both a keen cyclist (knees permitting) and an ex Inspector in the Metropolitan Police. He recently filed this report for us from The 2023 UK Police Unity Tour, which combines both of his passions.
They say that mighty oaks grow from acorns, this has very much been the case with the UK Police Unity Tour since its inception in 2012.
The full history of the Tour is it started in the US, to coincide with Police Week in 2002. This started with a handful of riders who rode to Washington DC covering a few hundred miles. They raise money for Care of Police Survivors & have raised millions of dollars over this time. Their rides have various ‘Chapters’ that all converge on DC from different start points now. Rob Atkin & Gary Byfield from the UK were lucky enough to partake in the US one. The US ride now has thousands of riders.
They brought the idea back to the UK, asked a few friends to help organise a home one. In 2012, 23 of us cycled from the National Police Memorial in The Mall over 3 days to the National Arboretum in Staffordshire to coincide with the COPS – Care of Police Survivors (UK) weekend. This is where the dependents of those left behind by the death of a loved one go to commemorate & remember as a group. No police motorcycle outriders, just 2 of us at the back with Hi-Viz jackets on! On this ride we were joined by 10 US riders.
Our first ride was interesting to say the least, trying to avoid the main roads over the 180 mile route, we cycled up the side of canals on towpaths where we could, not really recommended with highly pressurised road tyres. We had a near miss when one of the cyclist’s bike slid away from underneath him in mud & nearly ended up in the canal!
Over the past 11 years it has grown & this year we had over 350 riders from 11 start points around the country converging on the Arboretum. These 11 start points or Chapters are predominantly force based & we had teams from Wales, Scotland, Devon & Cornwall to name but a few. Riders pay a registration fee which covers 2 nights hotel accommodation, ride shirt & food. There is an expectation that all will do this as a sponsored event & raise a minimum of £400. London had 75 riders this year, we have gone a long way since the start. The driving school at Hendon now escort the whole ride from start to finish & we have more support staff. We have been well supported by Sainsburys & Tesco, who lay on food & drinks at their stores for us at stops. Halfords laid on 2 mechanic vans & the London Ambulance Service supply a vehicle with 2 paramedics on board. It has become very much a family affair with the same rides & support staff coming back year after year.
A highlight of the tour is when we stop at a rural police station & the families of the officers who serve there make us cakes!
This year we raised in excess of £160,000 & over the last 11 years we have raised £1.3m which has enabled COPS to buy a house to take dependents to when a loved one dies for counselling & financial advice. The house is also available for dependents, if they need peace & quiet. COPS offer a variety of other services for dependents. You may be curious as to why I don’t use the term widows & orphans, it’s simply that parents & siblings need the same support to help them deal with the grief.
The ride culminates when the participants cycle into the National Arboretum where they are welcomed by the dependents. A very moving occasion I can assure you. Each rider wears a band to commemorate an officer who has died & these are handed over to the families at this point. This is a very poignant moment. All participants receive an event medal for their achievement.
Police outriders now escort the whole ride
Below you can see the band I wore 2 years ago for John Fordham who was killed by Kenneth Noye, EOW stands for End of Watch i.e. the day of the officers passing.
As I have said it has grown massively over the past 11 years, we have already started to plan next year’s ride only a few weeks after the 2023 one finished. The committee are all passionate about the welfare & support of the dependents. I have been the National Treasurer now for 11 years & one of only a handful of people who have completed all 11 rides.