A Salford hospice will be forever grateful to a group of Mancunians after their charity bike ride from Barcelona to Manchester.

St Ann’s Hospice has a new ambulance thanks to the efforts of the Mitten family who used their personal loss to help others.

Fundraiser Andy Mitten’s terminally-ill father had been unable to return home from Salford Royal Hospital a month before his death due to a shortage of ambulances. After a six-hour wait, his brother eventually took him home, but the family remembered that small detail.

After his father died from cancer at St Ann’s Hospice in Little Hulton in November 2018, Andy was struck by the level of care and decided to use the funds raised for the ride in memory of Charlie Mitten to support the hospice.

Andy said: “He was there four hours, barely conscious, but my family really felt support in those four hours and they were overcome with it and we felt that they were worthy recipients.

“When I came to the hospice, I thought ‘do you need anything tangible?’ I know that the running costs are £20,000 a day, but I like the idea that if we could provide something tangible then we can sell that idea.

“They said we’d love an ambulance and it was £40,000. I thought that’s a lot but it’s not £4 million, we’ve got half a chance.

“I knew that we had good connections and people knew us through work as a journalist so we could get the message out to a lot of people and we set about organising it.

“After a few pints at his funeral, we had about 200 people who were up for cycling, then the next day it was down to like three or four.”

As it turned out, within the group of family and friends, there were five on their bikes and two drivers who joined forces to complete the 2,000km route to ensure, as Andy put it, some good could come from his dad dying.

This was no easy task. It was announced a couple of weeks ahead of the ride and the fundraising began. Then it was a gruelling 16 days riding 120km per day.

When Andy put it to his father before he died, Charlie was not convinced. He asked “can you go somewhere where there are no mountains?”, to which Andy responded, “No dad, I can’t move the Pyrenees.”

The group set upon the challenge leaving the Camp Nou with Andy’s brothers, Jonathan and Sam, in addition to Steve Price and ‘JP’ as Andy’s Uncle David and ‘Murph’ drove. Childhood friend Danny Hill would also join from Portsmouth.

On the second day, Andy was really ill and the doctor advised against continuing.

He added: “I was really upset. I went to bed thinking ‘I can’t carry on something I’ve put so much time into trying to plan this’. The doctor said ‘no one will know, just skip a day’,” he said, shaking his head in dismay.

The next morning Andy woke up with a completely different mindset to carry on and his brother said he’d stick with him.

Further struggles were to hit the group. Rain. Mountainous terrain. Hills. Bar Andy, all the other lads had five to seven punctures. But whatever hit them, they brushed it off knowing the support and donations kept rolling in.

Fitness helped. Jonathan was a former semi-professional footballer, Sam was a professional when he was younger, Steve “was trying to race cars”, Andy joked, and they had heard on the quiet that Danny had been training, and so they persevered.

Danny said: “It was pretty hard going. We had a couple of long days. One day in particular where we got lost. But the evenings were good fun.”

The drinks flowed at the various pubs and bars they went to and so did the donations, as they were well looked after.

In Uttoxeter, for example. a whip-round at The Blythe came to £190.

Andy continued: “That really boosted your confidence and reason for doing it because they’re not going to benefit – the people of Staffordshire – from this ambulance so that was lovely.

A couple of days before the end of the journey, they stopped at a pub close to Birmingham and another whip-round followed.

Andy added: “This lady came out of the kitchen and said ‘I’ve heard about you lads’. She just gave us the money we spent back, it was like £50. That really touched me. I can never say a bad word about Brummies again in my life!

“We reached the final total on the final day in Congleton – two hours from Manchester. I don’t know why it happened that day but we were absolutely buzzing.

“We were all exhausted and we’d all lost weight but we did it”, he continued.

“Had we not raised the amount of money thanks to people’s generosity, it wouldn’t have been as worthwhile.”

Danny added: “Staying in that campervan, the tent and all the rest of it was a good effort for all that time. A real good effort.

When the lads reached Old Trafford and turned the corner from Chester Road, they were greeted by hundreds of people including friends, family and Manchester United legends Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Andy Cole.

Andy added: “It’s one of the best things we’ve done. It was a massive team effort, we had two drivers, we couldn’t have done it without them. They were logistically extremely helpful.

Anne-Marie Wynne, head of fundraising at St Ann’s Hospice, said: “I’ve never met such a nice group of people doing something for us!

She added: “The fact that they were able to fund the ambulance, which means we can get people in and out of our daycare service and to appointments as well is just fantastic.

“We just couldn’t be more grateful.”

One of Andy’s close friends, Kevin Donald, was due to do the Hadrian’s Wall walk to help raise funds, but given how well both parties did, that has gone towards a second ambulance at St Ann’s Hospice in Cheadle.

Andy said: “There’s a happy ending to it. I wish my dad wouldn’t have died. I wish we wouldn’t have needed to do it. But I’m glad he knew that we were doing it and the love and support we got from people was incredible.”

The contributions to the group effort was outstanding. Donations from companions, strangers, Manchester United offered their hospitality as Manchester City and Liverpool both provided match-worn shirts.

Everyone played their part in helping a hospice that does so much for others, and they are rightfully receiving a gift that will go a long way in return.

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