“It was a privilege to wear your shirt around the course”
The London office of leading global insurance organisation AIG became involved with 999 Club when they were looking for a small charity to support – one where they could really see the difference they were making.
Paul Aitchison, who as Global Head of Space is responsible for insuring satellites and shuttles, saw the vital work we do and became part of our 20th anniversary RideLondon team.
What made you want to ride for homeless people?
I particularly wanted to make an effort for the 999 Club because of the services the charity provides. The work the 999 Club do is restorative, trying to get people back to a functioning place in society – I think that’s an incredible thing to do. Visiting the charity and looking at the facilities is very grounding. My world doesn’t expose me to these problems. I know about them, but seeing it first hand is very humbling.
How did you approach fundraising?
I set up a fundraising page and emailed friends and family to explain the work of the 999 Club. People were very supportive. I also made my own contribution – although I did the riding, I also wanted to donate, because I didn’t just do it for the ride, I wanted to support the charity.
When I talked to people about what I was doing there was clear empathy for what’s going on in our society today. Having spent time at the 999 Club I was able to explain that the local job centre is scheduled for closure. Of all the places where there should be a jobcentre to help people find work, Deptford is an area that has difficulties, where there is a need. It just seems like a ludicrous thing. Part of the fundraising was explaining this to people. We get caught up in our own small worlds – and it’s important to see these things and take note and try and do something about it.
The sponsorship becomes one of those challenges where you want to raise more and more, and then you get to the event and you’ve done it. Times are not easy for everybody, and persuading people to part with £2000 for those that really need it – it was very generous of them. We’ve all got other things to spend our money on – and it’s heart-warming to see people are generous enough to donate.
Did you enjoy the ride?
I cycled through the Olympic Park at 5.30 in the morning. It was fantastic riding through London streets so early. A lot of people take part, but it was really well organised. I got over the start line at about 7.30, it was incredible to ride along major London streets that had been closed for the cycle ride, through Richmond Park and out to Surrey. There’s amazing support around the course, with people turning out to cheer and support the riders. I’m grateful to the 999 Club for letting me represent you – it was a privilege to do so.
My favourite part of the course was actually the hills. They’re difficult, but there’s an achievement in getting to the top. My favourite was Leith Hill, which is very steep, but about three-quarters of the way up there was a man holding a sign that read “Shut up legs”. By that stage, my legs were absolutely screaming through my head. So that cheered me up!
I really enjoyed the challenge and the chance to do something new. I’ve never cycled 100 miles before, the most I’d done in training was 63 so it was a significant jump from that.
I was absolutely elated to finish. And in front of Buckingham Palace as well. The picture says it all – I had a huge smile on my face – then limped around for the next 24 hours.
Any advice for would-be riders?
Go ahead and do it.
At the drop of a hat.
Without a doubt.
Expect sore legs.