Help to end homelessness in Wales

In which I explain how you can help to end homelessness in Wales by supporting my slow cycle ride

TL;DR : I am using my Slow Cycle Around Wales to raise money for the brilliant charity Llamau. Skip the explanation and get straight to the giving-money action by clicking here.

Do we really need another charity fundraiser?

When I started talking to friends about my idea to cycle slowly around Wales, one of the most common questions was “Which charity are you doing it for?”

My initial response was that I was doing this for me, not for charity. I just want to ride my bike. I’ve got enough to worry about, I don’t need extra pressure. Basically, give me a break! That elicited a few different responses.

Some were relieved, clearly fatigued by the constant asks from runners and riders and sellers of cookies. Who needs another fundraiser!

Others were understanding, recognising that the motivation for the trip wasn’t about raising money (see previous blog post on motivation).

More than a few were not impressed: why would I pass up an opportunity to raise money / awareness for a good cause? Didn’t I understand how my privileged position could be used to serve others?

I’m not going to lie, this latter point hit home a bit. If I’ve learnt anything about philanthropy, it’s that the main reason people give money and time to charities is because someone asks them (Helen G knows what I mean). It was starting to feel a bit lazy to not use the Slow Cycle to do a little good in the world.

Probably the most valuable comment I got (from more than one wise friend) was: if you’re going to raise money for a charity, make sure it’s something that you care about.

Improving the lives of young people in Wales

Rubicon crossed, I knew that I wanted to support a charity focused on improving the lives of young people in Wales. Why?

I grew up in Rhyl, which was one of the most deprived towns in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s (when I was growing up) and sadly still is today. I’m not shitting on Rhyl. I think it has masses of potential and is filled with all kinds of lovely, clever, caring, and brilliant people. But…

For too many kids in Rhyl, life is hard, fragile, and filled with trauma. The economy is a shit-show. Aspirations and expectations for what you can achieve in life are far too low. Their parents are so busy dealing (or not dealing) with the consequences of their own childhood traumas that they struggle to parent well. It’s an epigenetic hot mess.

My experience was growing up in Rhyl, but I know there are towns and villages all over Wales that sing the same song.

If you’re lucky (and I was), you find love, support, and inspiration in your extended family and from good-hearted, generous people that you meet by chance as you tumble through life. Others aren’t so lucky and that’s where community organisations can play such a vital role.

So I was looking for a charity that worked with disadvantaged young people, ideally helping them develop their aspirations and skills. I decided to crowdsource some ideas from twitter.

From the responses to that tweet, I discovered 40 organisations working in communities all over Wales. I spent late nights in April and May reading websites and impact reports, scrolling through their social media accounts and watching their videos. I saw loads of examples of brilliant organisations doing heroic work to help kids in places like Rhyl, all over Wales. Humbling.

Imagining a world without homelessness

One name kept coming up and the more I looked into their work, the more impressed I was. They’re called Llamau.

Llamau is a charity based in Cardiff that works all over Wales to support young people and women who are at risk of homelessness.

They have a 30+ year track record of making a difference when it matters most. Working proactively to prevent homelessness, providing a safe place to live for those who sadly do become homeless, and helping those who have experienced it get back on their feet and chart a positive future.

You can read more about the brilliant work that Llamau does on their website or you could take my word for it and donate to support them by heading over to my Just Giving page. Every penny will make a difference and you’ll earn my eternal gratitude.

Just three weeks to go until I set off on this crazy adventure. If I’m honest, it’s still mostly for me, but I really hope that I can also use this trip to raise some awareness and money that can support Llamau’s crucial work.

Don’t forget to subscribe for updates and leave a comment with any advice, ideas, or encouragement.

Rides since last post: three

18km. 49km. 57km.

In my defence, it’s only been a week since the last blog post and I have managed to catch covid (again).

Finding my way

In which I explain how I have approached route planning for the Slow Cycle Around Wales

I have never been particularly good at finding my way around.

Some people seem to have a sixth sense that means they always know where they are and which direction they should be headed. For a long time I suspected that this was just a question of self-confidence; as in: they don’t really know where they are or where they are going, but they approach it with an entirely unwarranted air of confidence. Jane knows what I mean.

As the evidence has mounted over the years, I have conceded that most people do genuinely seem to be more in tune with their place in the world than I am.

This isn’t a metaphor. I am being quite literal. Spatial awareness isn’t one of my strengths. You get good at what you practice and I haven’t put the work in.

All of which is a long way of saying that one of my first challenges when deciding to cycle slowly around Wales was simply how will I know which way to go?

Someone must have done this before

My first thought was that someone must have done this before.

A little googling led me to this wonderful blog by Chris Knight, who describes himself as a “budget version of Ray Myers”. An ex-rugby professional, Chris cycled the coastal path from Chester to Chepstow in July 2019 without any training on the bike and no experience of wild camping.

The Welsh coastal path is designed for walking and large segments are completely unrideable, meaning that Chris spent quite a lot of time carrying his bike – fully laden with his camping gear and supplies – up and down steps and over rocks, not to mention dragging it over sand dunes. So, while I continue to take a lot of inspiration from his journey, I wasn’t particularly excited about the coastal path idea.

I also discovered Richard Barrett’s excellent book Cycle Touring in Wales. Richard’s approach couldn’t be more different. He likes tarmac, doesn’t carry his bike at all, and prefers B&Bs to wild camping on the side of mountains. He is a classic bicycle touring kind of guy and this is a proper guide book, packed with useful insights and detailed (and I mean really detailed) directions.

Reading Chris and Richard’s equally compelling, but very different approaches, I decided to aim for somewhere in the middle. I want some off-road adventure and wild camping, but I want to balance that some quick progress over tarmac and towpaths, and the occasional warm bed and hot shower. This meant I needed to plan my own route.

There’s an app for that

Technology has long since solved the problem of my lack of spatial awareness. Provided you have a charged device and a connection, you can’t really go wrong.

The words “provided you have” are doing a lot of work in that sentence, but let’s assume for a moment that I will have a charged and connected device at all times. How do you go about planning a cycle around a country?

I turned to apps and spent my evenings for several weeks researching routes and segments on Komoot, Strava, Garmin Connect, and Google Maps, trying to connect together noteworthy gravel segments and stunning locations, while avoiding major roads and traffic. I also “want hills”, but not “all the hills, all the time”.

Ultimately, I settled on Komoot to plan the route. It’s still a work in progress (and doubtless will be until the last minute), but you can check it out here and I’ve included a screen grab image below (because Komoot and WordPress don’t play nice together).

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face

Given that I was born in Rhyl, it felt like a natural place to start and finish the journey. The first choice was whether to travel clockwise or anticlockwise. This is one subject on which Chris and Richard agree. Richard had analysed prevailing wind conditions and meteorological reports to determine that clockwise was the preferred direction. Chris has just set off anticlockwise and faced a brutal headwind. Clockwise it is.

As you can see from the map, I haven’t strictly kept to the “cycling the circumference” idea. I head in land on a few sections – sometimes quite significantly – to either avoid horrible roads or because there are sections that I really want to cycle and things that I really want to see.

The trip is organised into rides that average around 100km per day, in most cases ending at a campsite. I am trying to cover longer distances on the days when the climbs aren’t so brutal. My plan is to cycle on 14 days, with at least one full rest day (currently planned for Saundersfoot, where it just so happens there is a rather lovely spa).

While I think I’ll broadly follow the route, I don’t expect to follow the schedule and that’s kind of the whole point of carrying bikepacking gear. I don’t want to be stressing about whether I am going to make it to campsite X or Y on time. If it’s windy or raining (quite likely) then I’ll slow down. If I am feeling good, I will push on.

If you have any feedback or ideas on how the route could be better, or any other useful tips, please put them in the comments. Make sure you subscribe for updates, you can always unsubscribe if it gets too dull.

Rides since last post: 12

83km. 47km. 68km. 82km. 49km. 76km. 167km. 40km. 77km. 73km. 47km. 47km.

This includes two overnight bike packing excursions, which allowed me to test the kit wild camping. Some tweaks needed.

Unpacking why

In which I explore why I am planning to cycle around Wales

****

This post was originally published on Substack on 19 April 2022. At that time, I was trying out the idea of a newsletter. I have subsequently discovered that it is really difficult to write on Substack on a mobile phone, so I have decided to migrate the content over to my blog.

****

Why am I planning to cycle around Wales? Honestly, I don’t remember where the idea came from and I don’t know why it stuck. What I know is that it has become an itch that I feel the need to scratch.

I currently have four possible explanations, all of which are true to some extent.

  1. I am Welsh
  2. I like riding bicycles
  3. I needed a goal
  4. I’ve been locked down for too long

I am Welsh

I was born and raised in Rhyl in North Wales. “Sunny Rhyl” as it is often called.

I can’t be alone in thinking that anything that needs to include an adjective in the title is generally not to be trusted. The “Quality Inn” is almost certainly not a five star establishment. The “People’s Democratic Republic” is unlikely to be a country that holds free and fair elections. You get the point.

I suspect the whole “Sunny Rhyl” thing was started by a Wales Tourism Bureau officer with a sense of humour. I imagine a set of ironic postcards designed for the English tourists who were trapped in their caravans eating soggy chips while it pissed it down outside.

The point is that, despite having lived in England from the age of 20, I remain stubbornly Welsh. I genuinely love the country and the culture. Like many ex-pats, my sense of national identity has grown rather than diminished over the years.

I’ve visited often. To spend time with family. To watch the Welsh team play rugby (sadly, losing more than winning). To enjoy the countryside. Some of my fondest memories have been introducing non-Welsh friends to Wales.

I am not sure any of that really explains why I feel compelled to cycle around the whole country though. Lots of people feel warmly about their motherland (or land of their fathers), without needing to circumnavigate it. I suppose I should just be grateful I wasn’t born in Canada, which has a circumference of 356,000 km.

I like riding bicycles

Ever since my Nan bought me my first bike aged 11, I have loved cycling. It was a bright orange Raleigh with dropped handlebars. I remember it felt like liberation.

I did quite a bit of mountain biking in my youth, where I learned on the Welsh mountains that up == down. As a grown up living in Cambridge and working in London, I’ve pretty much always commuted by Brompton. I’ve cycled for pleasure (occasionally) and on a Peloton for fitness (don’t judge me). Perhaps lycra was inevitable.

I started cycling with more of a purpose at the end of August 2021 when I got bored of getting shin splints from running (what one of my doctor friends rather unkindly called “fat guy running on concrete disease”).

Some friends welcomed me into their weekend cycling group and showed extraordinary patience while they waited for me to catch them up. Sometime between that first ride in late August and writing this newsletter, I decided to cycle around Wales.

I needed a goal.

For most of my adult life I didn’t do much in the way of exercise at all. That changed in 2012 when I was diagnosed with a disease that affected my lungs. Apart from taking copious amounts of steroids, one of the only things I could do to lessen its impact was exercise. Ever since, I’ve tried to exercise pretty regularly and it’s honestly a habit that I wish I’d started sooner (take note kids).

Other than the occasional game of badminton doubles, I don’t do team sports and I’ve learnt that I need goals to keep me going. At one stage I outsourced the whole goals thing to personal trainers, which was fun and expensive in equal measure. I’ve signed up to online programs. Done couch to 5k and even some 10km running programmes. So when I started cycling, it felt like a good idea to set a goal.

I’ve been locked down for too long

The past couple of years have been all kinds of miserable for pretty much everyone on the planet and, while I count myself incredibly lucky in terms of the impact that the pandemic has had on me and my family (minimal), I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling as though my world has closed in a bit. I am craving some adventure.

Having written all of this down makes me wonder whether I am really just trying to rediscover some of that sense of liberation that I felt on a bright orange Rayleigh bike with dropped handlebars cycling around the hills of Wales.

I’m bloody lucky to have the option

I also acknowledge that I am bloody lucky to have the option. My family is perfectly able to cope without me and generous enough to let me have a go. I am able to take the time off work. I can afford the necessary – and some unnecessary – equipment. While I suspect it will be painful in part, my body should be up to the task. Not everyone is so lucky.

That’s all for now. I’ve tried to open up the comments, although I think you need to have subscribed to receive my newsletters to make a comment. Subscribe for updates, you can always change your mind later. I’d love to hear what you think.

Rides since last post: five

35km. 95km. 79km. 62km. 78km.

The short ride was a first attempt with the full bikepacking gear. Spoiler: it’s heavy. All rides benefited from Spring sunshine, not much wind, and largely flat topography. I really need to find more wind, rain, and hills if I am going to be ready for Wales.


A slow cycle around Wales

My plan to spend a couple of weeks on a bike in the land of our fathers

****

This post was originally published on Substack on 5 April 2022. At that time, I was trying out the idea of a newsletter. I have subsequently discovered that it is really difficult to write on Substack on a mobile phone, so I have decided to migrate the content over to my blog.

****

Some time over the past 6 months I decided that I should cycle around the circumference of Wales. The current, rather vague, plan is to do this in late July 2022, with a fallback of September depending on work and family commitments.

The route I’ve sketched out starts in Sunny Rhyl and goes clockwise. It is about 1,400km long with something like 15,000m of climbing. A mix of off-road, tarmac, and cycle paths. I expect to return to Rhyl approximately 14-16 days after setting off. This is a tour not a race.

I am doing it solo and unaided, which means carrying my camping and cooking gear, clothes, repair and maintenance kit, and everything else on the bike. And no, I’ve never done anything like this before.

I’ll explore the rationale for the trip in a future newsletter. Much to unpack there.

The idea of a newsletter is much easier to explain. It was inspired by my friend Chris M. who once cycled across America on a tandem. He published a daily newsletter that gathered quite the cult following. Chris is a much better writer than me and I have no aspirations for this newsletter to be as witty, insightful, or well-read as his.

What really inspired me to follow Chris’s example was his observation that having a newsletter to write gave him something to think about when he was on the bike. I sort of dismissed the thought at the time (too difficult, self-indulgent, surely I’ll be focused on the stunning landscapes).

That all changed last Saturday when I did my longest ever ride: 217km (Kings Lynn to Southwold). It was nearly 11 hours of cycling. Hard work. Beautiful sunshine (until the last two hours in the dark). Lots of time to think. That’s when Chris’s advice came back to me and I decided to give this newsletter thing a go.

We’re at least a few months out from the actual event so, for now, this will be a place to explore my motivation, preparation, anxieties, fears, and hopes. I think it might be helpful to have a record of this pre-ride phase to look back on. It might even help me get advice from more experienced adventurers before I set off.

I also see it as a commitment device. The more people I tell about my plan, the lower the likelihood of me finding excuses for not following through. Professor Thaler would be proud.

Ultimately, I hope this newsletter will give me something to think about on the bike and a way of sharing some of the experience with friends.

If you’re here, please subscribe. If it turns out to be shit, you can easily unsubscribe or send me to your spam folder. I won’t take it personally.

Feel free to leave a comment. I am particularly in the market for stories of people who have been on similar adventures.

A little light reading

One of our new colleagues asked me: “is there anything I should be reading before I join the team?” Great question.

I was drafting an email with some suggestions when it occurred to me that it might be more useful to post it as a blog. I hope that you find it interesting, but I also hope that you’ll use the comments to share suggestions of blogs, articles, books, and talks that you would recommend.

First a caveat, a declaration, and some thanks.

The caveat is that this isn’t intended to be a comprehensive reading list for computing and digital making. It’s meant to be a starting point, albeit one that reflects the values and biases of the Foundation. There is a huge amount written about computers and education, and I am not trying to create a literature review (although if someone has one, I’d love to see it).

The declaration is that you’ll notice that a lot of this is from people that work for or who are otherwise associated with the Foundation. I am not trying to promote the home team, it’s just that we hire and work with the best people in the field, so it’s kind of inevitable I’d recommend their stuff.

The thanks are to the people who have provided suggestions for this list, even though they didn’t know they were doing so at the time. In particular Jack Lang, Carrie Anne Philbin, Oliver Quinlan, and Simon Peyton Jones. Only the mistakes are mine.

And so, the list…

Seymour Papert, Mindstorms

mindstormsIf I was only allowed to pick one book, then it would probably be this. First published in 1980 and still relevant. Papert draws on the research conducted at MIT that led to the creation of the LOGO programming language, Turtle robot, Lego Mindstorms, and ultimately Scratch.

He argues persuasively that, in the hands of children, computers can be powerful tools for learning. He advocates a constructionist approach, where students learn through the experience of making things with computers. The ideas in this book influence pretty much everything we do at the Foundation, from Code Club to our teacher training programme Picademy.


Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary S. Stager, Invent to Learn

Invent to LearnWhile I love Papert’s book (and heartily recommend you read it), it was written for academics and so it can sometimes be a little hard going.

Invent to Learn by Martinez and Stager is much more accessible and a good place to get started.

Often described as the manifesto for the maker movement in education. The authors manage to cover the intellectual underpinnings, philosophy, and research, as well as providing practical guidance and a comprehensive list of resources. This is one of the books that should be handed to everyone on the first day of teacher training and should be required reading for government ministers of education.

Oliver Quinlan, Young Digital Makers (Nesta)

Young Digital Makers report cover

An exploration of the emerging field of digital making for young people in the UK. This is a neat little report that shares the findings from research that looked at the demand for opportunities to learn about digital making from parents and young people, and the organisations trying to meet that demand.

The sharp-eyed among you will have noticed that the author (Oliver Quinlan) joined the Foundation in January 2016 to lead our research efforts. More from Oliver below.

Tilly Blyth, The legacy of the BBC Micro 

the_legacy_of_bbc_micro_report_cover

Another report published by Nesta, this one from Tilly Blyth, keeper of technologies and engineering at the UK’s Science Museum, and also a Member of the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

It’s a comprehensive history and analysis of the computer literacy project in the 1980s, which gave the world the BBC micro. Blyth tells the story, gives us an insight into the people involved, and explores the impact on education, culture, and the economy. More than anything, I read this as a challenge to all of us involved in the field of digital making to have big ambitions.

Carrie Anne Philbin, Adventures in Raspberry Pi

adventuresThere are lots and lots of books available for people who are new to Raspberry Pi computers and it can be hard to know where to start.

Adventures in Raspberry Pi – written by the Foundation’s very own director of education Carrie Anne Philbin – is the one that we recommend for young people getting started with computing and digital making.

As with everything Carrie Anne writes, it’s wonderfully accessible and engaging, combining real learning with lots of fun. I should also say that, while it’s written for kids, it’s also a good place to start for adults who are new to computing.

Matt Richardson & Shawn Wallace, Getting started with Raspberry Pi

getting started

If Adventures in Raspberry Pi is the recommended book for kids, then Richardson and Wallace’s “Getting Started…” published by Make is the book I recommend for adults who are new to Raspberry Pi computers.

It’s also brilliantly accessible and packed full of practical projects that show off the capabilities of the Raspberry Pi, including lots of great ideas and tutorials for physical computing. Matt now heads up the Foundation’s work in the US.

Nicholas H. Tollervey, Python in Education

python

The “Pi” in Raspberry Pi stands for python (yes, we know we can’t spell), which we think is the best text-based programming language for education. Before anyone freaks out in the comments, we also help people learn other programming languages, but we reckon that python is a great place to start.

In this short book, Tollervey – a former teacher, turned programmer – explains what python is, how the community works, and why it is such a powerful tool for education. It’s a great read and free to download from O’Reilly.

Simon Peyton Jones bookmarks

This is just cheating, but I would be mad to exclude it. The founder and chair of the UK’s Computing at Schools network (and a Member of the Raspberry Pi Foundation), Simon Peyton Jones, curates his own reading list focused on the changes to the English computing curriculum. You might need to create a CAS account to view the list, but you should probably do that anyway.

Quinlearning newsletter

This is a weekly education technology newsletter curated by our very own Oliver Quinlan. It’s a treasure trove of news, links and generally interesting stuff around the general theme of how technology is or isn’t changing education.

Hack Education

There are lots and lots of education blogs out there, some of which even talk about technology,  and you can have a lot of fun exploring them. My personal favorite is Audrey Watters’ Hack Education, which can always be relied on for a thoughtful, challenging, well researched long-read.

And finally, I thought I’d suggest a few TED talks in case you want a change in format.

Mitch Resnick of the Scratch Foundation and MIT explains what Scratch is and how it’s helping kids all over the world learn how to code.

Clare Sutcliffe, co-founder of Code Club, and now the Foundation’s executive director of communities, explains the origins and purpose of Code Club.

Hadi Partovi co-founder of Code.org and the Hour of Code with a great explanation of why computer science is foundational knowledge.

Simon Peyton Jones (again) on the case for putting computing into the curriculum.

Eben Upton, co-founder of Raspberry Pi Foundation, and CEO of Raspberry Pi Trading, explaining the what and why of Raspberry Pi.

Strategy 1.0

It’s been a little over seven months since I joined Raspberry Pi Foundation as chief executive.  Much of that time I’ve spent with the team, trustees, partners, and the wider community, thinking about how we can best contribute to the movement of digital makers that is growing around the world.  How do we articulate our mission? How can we use our expertise and resources?  What do we stand for?

Hundreds of people contributed their ideas and many more provided inspiration through their actions.  One of most remarkable things about Raspberry Pi is the amazing community that has grown around us and from which we take our lead.

In December the Board signed off a new strategy for the Foundation.  It’s a work in progress and I like to think of it as our strategy 1.0.  There’s no doubt we’ll need to adapt and evolve it as we learn more, and some big questions haven’t yet been answered. But, it feels like a significant step forward in ambition, clarity, and openness.  It’s certainly exciting to be working with the team to figure out how we put it into practice.

Click to access RaspberryPiFoundationStrategy2016-18.pdf

Please take a few minutes to read through the slide deck, talk it through with some other people, and let me know what you think on the comments or by email.  Thanks in advance for your contribution.