So in my kick off blog at the end of July I reported how I was off to ride from London to Paris over 4 days for Alzheimer’s Society with my 2 sons and cousin and I had also just launched my brand new company, David Witts Independent Consultancy Limited and posed myself the challenge: “Will the real David Witts please stand up!” In this blog I look back at the last couple of months and ask the question, “Did the real David Witts stand up?”.
London to Paris Cycling Challenge for Alzheimer’s Society
Between Wednesday 25th and Saturday 28th July 2018 my 2 sons, my cousin and myself along with 150 other riders managed to achieve our goal of cycling 308 miles from London to Paris for Alzheimer’s Society in honour of my dear old Dad #sarge236 and at the same time raised in excess of £7,500! In total the group have raised in excess of £281,000!
So how was our journey?
Day 1 from London to Dover and then catching the ferry to Calais and onwards to our hotel for a bit of sleep, was all good. We made good time from London to Dover and the most challenging part of the day was around the 60 mile mark when suddenly 3 large hills appeared in quick succession to change a straightforward ride to more of a challenge, especially in the afternoon heat.
The ferry crossing was good and gave us the opportunity to fuel up for the next day. The 8 ½ mile ride from the ferry to our hotel was great as we rode together as a group of 150 and in the dark with all our lights on, it was a great memory.
Day 2 was gruelling and probably the hardest day’s activities I have undertaken in my life (probably). Cycling across France’s undulating northern roads lined with crops would normally be an acceptable challenge for your average cyclist, but add to that the 46+ degrees heat of a European heatwave and suddenly it was a very different challenge. Never have I drunk so much water in 1 day and being out in that heat for 11 and a half hours, with nearly 8 hours of cycling, shows how many drinks stops we had to take to survive the ravaging heat. At home I wouldn’t even have ventured out in that heat, let alone sitting on a bike for nearly 12 hours as the roads below us melted and passing through the fields with gentle breezes which felt like you were being blasted by a flame thrower.
There were so many opportunities to take the easy option and throw in my sweat soaked hat and give up on this challenge. But with the brilliant support of my family, staying focused on my goal and the gentle chipping away of mile after mile and lots and lots of water stops, we eventually arrived at our hotel 81 miles later in Aras and at around 8pm ready for lots of food and drink in preparation for whatever day 3 was going to throw at us. Surely it couldn’t get any worse than today!
Day 3 turned out to be day 2 of Europe’s hottest heatwave for a long time! 1st drinks break was a very humbling experience as we stopped and spent some time at an old 1st world war museum in the Somme region. The Thiepval Memorial commemorates more than 72,000 men of British and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave, the majority of whom died during the Somme offensive of 1916.
On the high ground overlooking the Somme River in France, where some of the heaviest fighting of the First World War took place, stands the Thiepval Memorial. Towering over 45 metres in height, it dominates the landscape for miles around. It is the largest Commonwealth memorial to the missing in the world.
This made me get back on my bike and know I had nowhere near as big a challenge in front of me as these poor soldiers had all faced.
Again we chipped away in the suffocating heat and as we rode towards the sun, at about 25 miles I started to feel not quite right. The sun was getting to me above my glasses line and I started to get a headache and thought this might have to be the end. I did not break to my family how I was feeling as I wanted to see if I could battle through this. But I knew sunstroke was not going to be a good thing to battle through in this heat and I had started to work on my excuses of how I was going to break the news to them.
We stopped for another big intake of water when we found some shade and I assessed how I was feeling and kept drinking and eventually felt I could push on for a little while. Let’s see how I feel before I give up. But all the time I had a vision of my dear old dad sitting on my handle bars and his smile driving me forwards towards Paris. “Come on son, you’ve got this!” is what I kept hearing him whisper to me. Surely I wasn’t going to give in on my dream just because of a bit of sun!
The water and food stop miraculously seemed to work for me as the headache declined and we managed to keep chipping away at the miles. The lunch break came and they said it was downhill most of the way now (well nearly). Off we set in to the afternoon sun and chipped away the miles until we arrived in Compiègne, knowing that all that remained was one more days cycling in to Paris and we had achieved our goal. We even treated ourselves to a cheeky beer on arriving at the local café. Day 3 had been a longer day in the saddle with 7 ½ hours cycling during a 12 hour day out in the sun, but after the pain of day 2, day 3 certainly didn’t seem so bad.
Day 4 was a completely different day all together, very very emotional but physically a very different day. We had had storms overnight, so in the morning it was lovely and overcast and damp. So nice to cycle in these conditions after the heat of the previous 3 days. We set off nice and early from our hotel and rode quickly in pursuit of the 1st drinks stop at 12 miles. My lad had had a flat tyre when he collected his bike in the morning so him and my cousin caught up with us at the drinks stop so we could all carry on together.
The lunch break wasn’t much further on in comparison to other days and on about 35 of 58 miles we rode to the top of a climb to be welcomed with the amazing sight of Paris in the distance on the horizon. We were on the home straight now and the pain and fear of disappointment of the last 2 days just drained away. There was no way I was not going to fulfil my ambition now.
Cycling through France you were treated like gods by fellow motorist (unlike in the UK) but this all changed as we merged in to the suburbs of Paris. We now had to be on our toes as we wound our way through the outskirts of the city with everyone racing to get where they needed to be. We managed to avoid any altercations, just.
We all met up in a park on the outskirts of the city centre and this was a beautiful moment. The sun was back out and it was beautiful as everyone celebrated knowing there was just the final celebratory ride to the Eiffel Tower between us and success.
Lots of jovial pictures were taken and drinks and ice creams enjoyed to keep us cool.
Then it was on to the final piece in what has been an incredible 12 month challenge. The last 5 miles were undertaken in a group where all 150 riders rode together through the busy city streets, up the Champs-Élysées around the Arc de Triomphe and arriving at the Eiffel Tower to the cheers of our families (who had travelled over to meet us) and the adulation and satisfaction of what we had just achieved.
The conclusion of the Tour de France was arriving in Paris the following day so the city was well prepared for the event and as we cycled through the streets we were cheered on and clapped and beeped at by all passers by, it was amazing.
Lots more tears were shed as we hugged and celebrated each other at the finish line, knowing that what we had done collectively was well worth it and for such a great cause, including my dear old dad. All of this under the shadow of the amazing Eiffel Tower, what an amazing piece of architecture that is.
The Boys do London to Paris 2018 for Alan Witts and Alzheimer’s Society had achieved their goal!
So in July 2017 I had set myself the challenges of:
- Doing something inspirational and for a good cause
- Getting fitter and lose weight
- Doing something special with my family
Had we achieved this? Boy had we!
1. Did we do something inspirational and for a good cause?
We rode 308 miles over 4 days in heat in excess of 46+ degrees all for the amazing Alzheimer’s Society to hope that future generations of families do not have to suffer the pain of a loved one deteriorating in front of them. The achievement still inspires me to this day and gives me memories I will cherish forever. Watching the video of our adventure gets me in tears every time I watch the section where we cycle in to Paris (you can enjoy the video below).
2. Did I get fitter and lose weight?
Certainly fitter now than I was in my 30s and definitely lost some weight, more to work on with that one.
3. Did I do something special with my family?
Wow you bet. The boys were amazing and so supportive and waited for me at the top of every hill and never left me behind (and I cycled every foot of every mile of every hill – no walking with my bike). All the training we did together was amazing and to know that we did this all together for #sarge236 is something we are all very very proud of. Our families met us in Paris and we enjoyed a couple of days relaxing and taking in the arrival of the Tour de France = amazing!
This all goes to show that if you want something enough you can achieve it! 14 months ago I didn’t even have a bike and I set myself what seemed like an unachievable target initially. But with commitment and dedication, we broke it down in to manageable chunks and built up the stamina to survive 4 days on a bike in incredibly difficult conditions to arrive in Paris as champions. The 4 day journey was like a subset of the previous 12 months, as I had to break each day in to manageable chunks and work away at eating the cycling elephant all the way from London to Paris.
Enjoy our video journey of our amazing adventure below.
David Witts Independent Consultancy Limited
So how has my company progressed since we last spoke, when I was just setting it up and everything was very new?
Well its certainly been both an exciting and challenging few months as you set the company up officially, get an accountant, set up your accounts, register for VAT, etc…. You also then need to sell your services and build yourself a customer base and raise income.
So what specifics have taken place to help build towards the goal of running my own very successful company?
I have made use of all the free support and expertise I can find, including the brilliant Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Growth Hub. They have helped point me in the direction for forming my company and also providing funded Breakthrough workshops where business coaches work with you to help you refine your proposition. Very very worthwhile.
I’ve also attended a few events to do some very early market research and market testing. This has included a couple of events up in Scotland with my good friend and business partner Andy Sandford, from the excellentWe Are Lean and Agile with his Engage Business process Modelling Tool. The 1st event was his Engage Scottish User Group held at the City of Edinburgh Council and the 2nd was in Perth were 2/3rds of all Scottish Council’s gathered for a day of sharing experiences around Digital Transformation. Great to see that Scotland can get 2/3rds of its Council’s together at one event and all sharing best practice.
I also managed to get a new profile pic of the slightly slimmer version of me at Edinburgh Airport.
I also attended the excellent LocalGovCamp 2018 in Birmingham, working again with Andy and also my friends at Software Solved, where I helped them facilitate a couple of their workshops. My follow up blogs from these workshops can be enjoyed at:
- How can effective collaboration be an enabler for councils to deliver ‘best of breed’ digital platforms?
- Digital Self Service: Why are councils still struggling to deliver better and more efficient online services?
It was a great day for networking, learning and getting back involved with the real challenges of Local Government Digital Transformation.
Please note: This is where “I” becomes “we”, as we have formed my new business as a limited company and VAT registered. Ooh look at me!
We were also absolutely delighted to announce that we were recently accepted as an approved Digital Outcomes and Specialists 3 supplier on the UK Government’s Digital Marketplace. We are very happy to be included on this major framework and shows our ambitions to be a key supplier to the Public Sector marketplace. You can procure our services off the framework from Monday 1st October.
We have also enjoyed the value of partnership working, as we bring together like minded folk to grapple with the challenges around how do we help the Public Sector UK achieve much more with less whilst delivering excellent customer services.
My good friend and ex-colleague Andy Sandford of We Are Lean and Agile has been a great ally and we have already worked together and travelled together towards our goal of helping create amazing customer experiences for public sector organisations during a time of reducing budgets and higher customer expectations.
We are looking to combine our skills and knowledge to develop more holistic services for Local Authorities to enable them to deliver and collaborate on service transformation. Based on our shared experience of over 50 years Public Sector transformation, we are looking at developing unique services to help organisations accelerate delivery and achieve tangible benefits. Why settle for customer satisfaction when you can achieve customer amazement!
As an aside, a lovely little story here to show the value of a brilliant and trusted friend and great working relationships. Only last week at a business meeting, Andy suddenly presented me with a signed book from the one and only Tour de France 2018 winner, Geraint Thomas. Andy had apparently been on the train to London recently and saw Geraint and asked him jovially: “please could you sign this for my mate, he recently did a massive ride London to Paris and got there the day before you ……. Obviously what you did was much more impressive!”
Geraint kindly wrote in the book: “”To Dave, sorry I missed you in Paris!! Geraint Thomas”.
Absolutely brilliant and made my day/year! Thank you so much Andy and Geraint 🙂
The book in question which was the 1st thing Andy was able to lay his hands on, was the excellent “Black Box Thinking” by Matthew Syed. Well worth checking out to help you achieve customer amazement!
As a thank you, please check out the awesome work and products Andy has on offer over at his We Are Lean and Agile website.
So what do the next few months hold for us here at David Witts Independent Consultancy Limited?
Product development is key for me. “But you are a consultant Dave, surely you just sell yourself?” I hear you asking. Well if only it was that simple. It has become obvious to me that you need to be able to offer a tangible product that people can see the real benefits of to their organisation. It is not good enough to just say, “well you can benefit from my 36+ years public sector experience can’t you.” As nice as I am, people still need to be able to see the real benefits of what they are going to spend their money on, and that is often more than just a nice smiley face (but that obviously helps!).
Marketing is also key and never get too confident that you just think people know about you. It won’t be long that we start to see the Amazon and eBay Christmas marketing campaigns running again. But surely everyone knows about these mega companies? They do but it is still very important to engage the market and not get over complacent. Likewise, we will continue to work away at our marketing campaigns.
Critically, more partnership working with the likes of Andy at We Are Lean and Agile as together we can achieve so much more than individually. Watch this space to learn of our exciting future announcements!
I wrote down “change the world” and by that I mean, make a real difference to Public Sector customers that in this time of massive financial and political challenges we can still collectively deliver cost effective services that amaze the customers. This is my challenge to help change the world!
And obviously, more cycling challenges! I thought I might leave my bike in the River Seine in Paris, but I found when I returned home I still had the desire to cycle and that has still not gone away. Last month I did the “Cycle 300 miles for September Challenge” raising funds for Cancer Research UK and today I launch my latest challenge of “Cycling Down Dementia 2018 The Epic Challenge – 1,000 miles” for Alzheimer’s Research UK. My challenge is to ride 1,000 miles between 1 November and 31 January and to raise £400 to power life-changing dementia research. If you are able to make any small donations to help raise funds for this excellent charity it would be very very much appreciated.
So back to the topic of this blog, “Did the real David Witts stand up?”
Well I certainly think he did! On the cycling front, his amazing achievement of completing the London to Paris Cycling Challenge with his family for Alzheimer’s Society and his subsequent Cancer Research UK and Alzheimer’s Research UK distance challenges.
Company wise, he has made a great start, hasn’t lost his nerve and just gone and got a job, and the future looks bright for him to achieve his goal of creating his own piece of customer amazement.
Never let anyone steal your dream away! I certainly won’t and will continue to keep standing up by myself.
In the meantime, if any of my services are of interest in helping your organisation develop and amaze your customers, please contact me.
Until next time…