Friday, 25 July 2014

A Grand Depart- reflections on Le Tour De France

A Grand Depart

“Could we try to make Le Grand Depart of Le Tour de France ‘dementia friendly’?” It’s starting in Leeds and is in Yorkshire for two days. Got to be worth a try.

Yep, why not? Let’s go for it.

A brief thought and idea shared over a coffee after staging another memories game with a football league club in 2013. Le Tour was coming to the heart of Yorkshire in July 2014 and what better sporting event to work with? Le Tour de France is the World’s largest annual free sporting event. It is known for attracting relatively large crowds (little did we know!) , so we hatched a plan to try and make sure everyone could enjoy the spectacle of the weekend when Le Grand Depart of Le Tour de France came to Yorkshire. A plan was hatched and emails pinged out to try to enlist support to turn a bit of a pipe dream into reality.

We outlined three key aims to make Le Grand Depart ‘dementia friendly’:

To encourage people living with dementia and memory problems to come and enjoy the once in a lifetime event

To raise awareness of dementia and provide suitable information

To capture the memories of Le Tour de France and of sport from spectators across Yorkshire to use in our work across the UK

What we and probably 90% of the rest of Yorkshire hadn’t appreciated was what a huge logistical challenge the counties and councils of God’s own county faced in planning and delivering such a high profile sporting event that was to take place across such a huge expanse of countryside and take in numerous towns and cities along the route. 
Fast forward several months and the dream remained just that, hardly surprising given the huge number of proposals, plans, events, festivals and organisations getting involved. But then out of the blue came an invite to meet with organisers of Le Grand Depart from TdFHub2014Ltd. David Watson, CEO of North Yorkshire Sport had supported our proposal and accompanied us to discuss our ideas. This was early days but a chance to outline a vision that could embed Le Tour’s own values of inclusion, community and action. The meeting went well and now it was a case of waiting for the decision of the board.

The decision came through out of the blue – Le Grand Depart and Le Tour are all about communities coming together, about social action and social cohesion. Our proposal to make Le Grand Depart dementia friendly had been accepted!

With the jubilation of learning we would be involved in such a prestigious sporting event came a certain amount of trepidation. With only a few weeks till the event and with no funding, no equipment and no staff, had we bitten off more than we could chew?

First to help out were Leeds City Council and North East Leeds CCG. Leeds was the city hosting the start of Stage 1 of Le Tour de France 2014 and is working toward being an Age Friendly and Dementia Friendly city. Funding was agreed so we could purchase enough equipment to have a presence at three ‘spectator hubs’ across the city. A hub being a designated viewing point for spectators where there were giant TV screens, information stands, community activities and food and drink available. Space for Sporting Memories Network gazebos was allocated in Park Square Leeds City Centre, Scott Hall Road playing fields, Pool in Wharfedale and Otley town centre. 

Thanks to the help of TdFHub2014Ltd offers from other hubs to house Sporting Memories Network gazebos and be dementia friendly began to flood in. Knaresborough Castle, Keighley, Ilkley, Masham, Leyburn, Ripon and the town hosting the finish of stage one, Harrogate, all offered space. Having recently launched a project in partnership with City of York Sport & Active Leisure, the team at City of York Council offered space at four of their hubs for the start of Stage Two on the Sunday, including York Racecourse, where the riders would be signing in for day two and warming up before the stage.

We still faced some real challenges. How could we fund more hubs, how would they be staffed, where would the equipment, print, volunteers etc come from in such a short timescale?

We launched a public appeal online for donations and an appeal for volunteers. Just under £1,000 came in from the public and fifteen volunteers registered an interest. It was a start! 

A meeting to discuss our plans with the Department of Health in Leeds led to funding for a further two hubs and an offer to help recruit volunteers from their offices in Quarry House, Leeds. Meanwhile an email to BBC North led to a partnership with Leeds Trinity University and BBC Radio Leeds that would lead to nine post grad media students acting as memory makers across hubs in West Yorkshire, interviewing spectators about their memories of Le Tour and their favourite sporting memories and some of our volunteers receiving media training at the BBC!

With less than two weeks to go, the pressure was on as we placed orders for gazebos, banners, leaflets, storage boxes, mallets, scissors, voice recorders. One of the biggest challenges was finding tables, chairs and table cloths to hire as stockists ran out of everything across Yorkshire. At least we managed to secure a good sized van to hire, and boy would we need it!

Regular deliveries began to arrive, filling up the office and a garage, with one mammoth delivery of gazebos proving something of a physical challenge as fifty three heavy boxes were dropped on the pavement outside! Each piece of equipment needed to be allocated to the correct hub, each hub required a risk assessment supplying, copies of insurance, method statements on our planned activities. The ‘to do’ list was now in danger of becoming the same length as one of the stages of Le Tour!

An appeal for volunteers by the Department of Health had resulted in more folk coming forward to help out over the weekend along with staff and volunteers from some branches of Alzheimer’s Society.

Wednesday 2nd July 2014

Bit by bit (or should that be cog by cog?) things began to take shape and by Weds 2nd July a route map was in place for the build-up times and days for each hub, a master list of equipment needed for each one and almost all the equipment had arrived. Time to set off to put the first hub up. 

What a place to start. Harrogate West Park Stray Fan Park was expected to see 300,000 visitors and over 2,000 journalists over the weekend. Housing giant screens, a massive bar and being adjacent to the finish line of stage one, the scale of Le Grand Depart really struck home when we queued alongside massive official Tour de France lorries in the North Yorkshire Spa Town. Our next stop was Ilkley Riverside Gardens which had been set up as a festival site, a beautiful setting. Getting there proved to be something of a marathon as a series of last minute roadworks that were either removing traffic islands, smoothing pot holes or repainting white lines meant a very late finish to day one of our preparations. 

Whilst much of our time was taken up driving and building up hubs, we continued to try to secure funding to be able to make as many of the other hubs ‘dementia friendly’, to recruit volunteers, get in touch with those who had already stepped forward and of course, to balance all this with providing support to the Sporting Memories projects running across the UK.

Thursday 3rd July

A very early start and with two volunteers recruited to help out, the van was loaded up with equipment for another five hubs and it was time to travel across North and West Yorkshire, taking in the sea of yellow bikes, bunting and flags decorating the route.

  The roads were full of cyclists experiencing the first two stages and from time to time we happened upon official team vehicles accompanying Tour de France riders out on training and reconnaissance runs. The most amazing site was whilst circumnavigating Harrogate we spotted the whole of Team Lampre-Merida on the southern by-pass with the unmistakable rainbow jersey of current World Champion Rui Costa in the middle, flanked and protected from the traffic by his team-mates.

As we zig-zagged our way, the weather was threating to put a dampener on the celebrations as intermittent showers and an increasing breeze began to make each stop off more and more challenging, requiring more pegs and ballast to make sure sporting memories gazebos didn’t sprout wings!

In between hubs, we continued to attempt to secure much needed funds to cover not only the basic costs of equipping the extra hubs, but also to be able to offer volunteers a contribution towards their travel. Whilst monies were secured that allowed us to equip ten hubs, ultimately we had to make the difficult decision to halve the hubs we were offered. Volunteers had to be contacted to explain their expenses could not be covered.
In between hubs, we continued to attempt to secure much needed funds to cover not only the basic costs of equipping the extra hubs, but also to be able to offer volunteers a contribution towards their travel. Whilst monies were secured that allowed us to equip ten hubs, ultimately we had to make the difficult decision to halve the hubs we were offered. Volunteers had to be contacted to explain their expenses could not be covered. - See more at:

We headed to the Tour Presentation at the magnificent new Leeds Arena ceremony with somewhat heavy hearts, exhausted by the physical effort of lugging equipment across parks and fields and the highs and lows of trying to make this all work.

Le Tour in Leeds – Team Presentation

The city of Leeds was buzzing! If ever there was an uplifting event it was this. Some great performances from the likes of  Yorkshire’s very own Kimberley Walsh, Alistair Griffin and Embrace, the presentation of all the teams including World Champion Rui Costa and reigning Tour de France champion Chris Froome made for a fantastic atmosphere in the arena but the most rousing reception of the night was for the man who brought Le Tour de France to Yorkshire, Mr Gary Verity. 

A standing ovation from the huge crowd was followed by an inspirational speech by the CEO of Welcome to Yorkshire. Gary Verity outlined the many challenges that had been faced by the Yorkshire bid and team to bring Le Grand Depart to God’s Own County.  “Never give up and never take no for an answer”

It was then left to Christian Prudhomme to speak on behalf of Le Tour de France who demonstrated a great understanding of the pride the county felt in hosting such a remarkable event.

Just what was needed to keep our spirits up.
A brilliant event that reminded us why we wanted to make Le Grand Depart dementia friendly. We couldn’t stop now!

Friday 4th July

After a very, very late night the alarm went off after a couple of hours to remind us that this was the Eve of Tour.  A couple of hours catching up on emails and finalising guidance for volunteers before packing the van as the sun rose with the last of the hubs. Heading to Leeds on the A61 from Harrogate, we pass Harewood House, a truly grand official HQ for Le Grand Depart, that would host the official start of racing tomorrow, after the parade out of Leeds City Centre had been waved off by The Lord Mayor of Leeds.

Something of a disaster to start the day, we got to the first hub on the list only to find yesterday’s breeze has turned into a full on gale at the top of Scott Hall Road in Leeds. Any attempt to put a gazebo up would have been futile and likely resulted in sporting memories being advertised by an air borne group of volunteers that would have landed somewhere near Scarborough….thankfully hub number two was far more sheltered, nestling in the basin that is the city centre. We drive out past Leeds Town Hall, the fascia of which is bedecked in Le Tour de France logos.

A trip west to Heaton Park in Keighley now, through a few blustery showers we arrived at the venue as a big fun fair was setting up at the opposite end to the giant screen that was being pieced together. The guy in charge of security (a Lancastrian who’d been allowed a temporary work permit across t’border) told us it had been reported that over 10,000 travel passes to Keighley for the weekend had been purchased. The volunteers for Keighley were making early starts from Lancashire or cycling several miles to get to the hub, sounded like they were in for a busy one!
After Keighley (and a fine bacon buttie from the lay-by just out of Ilkley) we headed to Pool in Wharfedale, which was another picturesque venue, with the hub situated at the local cricket club right by the route of Le Tour. Pool was the first village the riders would pass through at full speed.

Across to York to drop off equipment for the two hubs we would have for the start of stage two on Sunday then back to Knaresborough Castle to set up the final Sporting Memories Grand Depart gazebo at 4pm.

A marathon set up was almost complete, volunteers were briefed and it was simply a case of cross fingers that the weather would come good. Load up the van with the last hub that was to be put up in the early hours of Saturday morning, pack two bikes, wet weather gear and we are ready.

6pm Friday 4th July

Panic stations. Invite received to attend the official Eve of Tour dinner! Emails are flying in from volunteers still wanting to help out and an email from the press team at 10 Downing Street appears, more on that tomorrow morning!

Shaving foam, razor, shower, shirt, cuff-links, waist-coat, tie. Re-tie tie. Re-tie tie again. Can’t remember last time I wore a tie, but now remember how bad I am at tying a tie that isn’t either the stubby one I wore at school if I ever bother turning up for, or creating some kind of thin knot that results in most of the material ending up somewhere near my knees. I find some happy compromise and cover up the rest of the material with my waist coat. Quick polish of the Dr Martins and head down the A1 to Leeds.

Park up in the Woodhouse Lane Car Park and the rain is tipping down. No overcoat (it’s July!) and no brollie (optimistic) means turning up at the Leeds Arena looking a tad drowned rat like. Most of the World’s press had decided to head indoors given the downpour (sensible).

Once I get inside, past the impressive military band and grab an orange juice I move into a busy reception area. A TV screen is showing a World Cup quarter final, I’d totally forgotten the World Cup was even on!

Time to head to our tables. 850 guests in the arena and I’m somewhat overawed to find I’m on the Lord Mayor’s table. The man who is starting Le Tour de France in Leeds tomorrow! Also on the table is the inspirational Mike Tomlinson, who speaks so passionately about the charity he runs that was established in his wife Jane’s memory. As well as sharing some incredible stories of Jane’s determination and drive, Mike also shared a personal memory of Le Tour about the time they both travelled to France to be guests at the start of a stage, that coincided with the announcement of where the 2012 Olympics would be taking place.

I’d grabbed some of our memory cards on the way out of the door and am so glad I did. On arrival at the table I soon spotted City of Leeds Council CEO Tom Riordan on the next table. Tom has been a terrific supporter of sporting memories from day one and had kindly invited me along to the evening’s proceedings. I showed Tom the cards and he immediately hatched a plan. On his table were CEO’s of councils the route passed through. He would set them a task of getting at least one VIP guest to write down a short favourite sporting memory to support people living with dementia.

Some wonderful memories were duly delivered by the CEOs. Members of the cast of Emmerdale, MP’s, local leaders and sports stars had shared memories. Dr John Sentamu, Stuart Lancaster, and a special memory shared by two times Tour de France winner Bernard Thevenet.

Then the next memory card arrived, completed by six times Olympic Gold Medal winner Sir Chris Hoy – a Rugby memory of Scotland’s Grand Slam in 1990!

The night was rounded off with a memory shared by a legend of Le Tour, five times winner Bernard Hinault.
After a fantastic night and many wonderful conversations with potential supporters of the network, we finally made it back home at 1AM

Saturday 5th July Le Grand Depart!

3:30AM alarm. It is absolutely tipping down with rain as we set off for the market town of Otley to put up the last of the Leeds City Council sporting memories Gazebos. The planned road closures force the early start, despite it still being pitch black and decidedly soggy, when we reach the town centre there is already lots of activity at the farmers’ market stalls and the smell of sizzling sausages was already beginning to fill the air. Once all the roads had been closed we set up the Gazebo, along with info on local dementia services and a life size cut out of the star of the dementia friend’s TV campaign- Gina.
As we finished putting the final touches to the Gazebo, the rain abated and the first of the spectators began arriving on bikes or on foot. Time to tackle a personal challenge.

Gary Verity had stated he wanted the main legacy of Le Grand Depart to be getting more people cycling. Well due to the road closures, two people would be getting back on bikes for the first time in many years. Two volunteers were looking after the Otley hub, so now we had the challenge of getting to Pool in Wharfedale and Ilkley. Pool being a couple of miles East of Otley, Ilkley being eight miles West. I drew the short straw and set off into a head wind with a heavy backpack full of information leaflets. Even at 5:30AM there were fans at key points on the road between Otley and Ilkley. Despite my distinct lack of fitness, it was a fantastic feeling to cycle on the actual route Le Tour would be whizzing along in just a few hours time. The crowds were already getting into the spirit and at each roundabout there were people clapping and cheering every cyclist who passed by with encouraging shouts of Allez Allez!

Entering the outskirts of Ilkley (uphill and into the wind) gave me plenty of time to take in the sights of all the flags, bunting, banners and scaffolding put up in front gardens ready for folk to get the best possible view of the World’s greatest cyclists passing through the town.

Of course with the event being free, no one really knew what size crowds to expect.

7AM and all is well. Coffee and bacon buttie purchased at Ilkley Riverside Gardens festival site. Now time to check on all the other hubs. One minor disaster with a Gazebo at Scott Hall Road meant we were one hub down, but everything else was in place, with volunteers arriving and all systems ready to go.

9AM – A tweet from the Prime Minister launches our work on making Le Grand Depart dementia friendly
10AM – Just an hour before the race would be starting in Leeds City Centre. No sign of anyone other than stall holders in Ilkley.

11:30AM still all quiet, with just a few folk trickling through the festival site, it is something of a ghost town. Was this going to be a waste of time and energy?

Noon – A text received from the Pool in Wharfedale hub that simply says ‘Wow’

1PM we can hear a helicopter approaching and distant cheers from the town centre above us, more helicopters appear in the sky, rotor blades clattering as a TV chopper circled the park and the town. Clearly Le Tour was passing through, but then what? Would we see any spectators begin to appear? Wow. Would we?

A small trickle of fans began to head down the hill from the town, the trickle then began to grow, and grow, and grow. Thousands descended on a sunny Riverside Gardens. Time to start work!

Digital voice recorder at the ready, information on dementia and dementia friends to hand out, the Spot La Boule comp and memory cards. Initially it proved tricky to engage folk, who were mostly focused on getting to the food and drink stands, but once fed and watered, many were happy to chat, share memories and learn more about Sporting Memories and dementia. Kids in particular loved entering the Spot La Boule comp, with Dads generally assigned by families to be the one who added a memory on the back of the card.

The atmosphere in the park was wonderful, a true festival spirit, the sun shone and thousands of families sat on the grass watching the race unfold on the giant screens.

Time to cycle back to Otley to take down the Gazebo before the roads re-opened. Thankfully the wind had not switched so it was a tail wind for the cycle back!

Back to base and time to prepare for day two. Then we sit down to watch the news and see the incredible crowds that had lined the route. Emails and messages from volunteers confirmed just how busy hubs had been, with Leeds, Otley, Ilkley, Pool and Harrogate West Park Stray Fan Park packed all day

Sunday 6th July Stage Two

4:30AM Into the van once more and an early journey to York Racecourse for the start of Stage two. City of York Council Sport and Active Leisure team had offered us space for Gazebos on the Knavesmire and just up the road at Rowntree Park. We could have had two more hubs in York but just couldn’t make the finances stretch that far. 

As our team of volunteers set up at the Racecourse, to prepare for the 30,000 fans who had secured free entry tickets, I was back on my bike pedalling to Rowntree Park, along the route of Stage Two! Some hardy spectators were already getting their spots to see the riders set off. Gazebos up, sun shining and now time to wait to see if day two would be as busy. It is quiet at the park but it is definitely noisier at the Racecourse as our volunteers find themselves being entertained by a live set from The Stranglers at 9AM!

As the park was not directly on the route I walked five minutes towards the city centre and found a great spot on a bridge over the River Ouse to watch the Peleton pass by. The crowds were gigantic and the atmosphere built up and up as each support vehicle passed through ahead of the race.

It really was ‘a hairs on the back of the neck moment’ seeing Le Tour pass by at such close quarters. 

Time to head back to Rowntree Park as fans began to flock to the food stands.  A quick check of the phone and I can see volunteers in Knaresborough and Keighley are all ready for busy days. Photos from the racecourse show a busy time was had there too.

Once again volunteers are helping out at each Gazebo and this allows me to head off into the City Centre for a quick interview live on BBC Radio York to talk about what we have been trying to do during Le Grand Depart.

After a magical afternoon in the sunshine talking with many wonderful people it was time to take the Gazebos down in York and head across to Knaresborough Castle to do the same.

10PM – we catch up on the highlights of Le Tour after unpacking the van, ready for another marathon day ahead taking down all the hubs.

The second stage of the Tour de France finished in Sheffield with 2.5m people having lined the route around Yorkshire over two days.

Vive Le Tour, Vive Yorkshire!

Time for a cool beer.

Monday 7th July 2014

Still on a high, we scoot round the hubs, packing away the gazebos, collecting the digital recorders, completed Spot Le Boule cards and collecting the occasional souvenir along the way. The final Gazebo to come down was the first we put up, Harrogate West Park Stray. 

What a journey.

Our sincere thanks to all those who volunteered, who covered their own travel expenses and who gave up their weekends to help make Le Grand Depart Dementia Friendly. We'd also like to thank those who stepped forward to volunteer but were unable to get to the hubs due to lack of funding or due to road closures. 

Thank you to Leeds City Council, North East Leeds CCG, Public Health England and the Department of Health for helping to make ten spectator hubs of the World's largest annual sporting event dementia friendly.

All the memories shared are being added to the suite of websites at
Tuesday 8th July 2014

The following day we started three days at the Great Yorkshire Show, interviewing hundreds more and talking mental health and memory problems. THE most memorable moment was a mum who helped her two young children to enter Spot La Boule and to write a little memory each. They had all watched Le Grand Depart of Le Tour and had had a magical time. She then asked if either knew what dementia was and began to explain to the little boy and girl just why grandma can’t always remember..….

No comments:

Post a Comment