Cycling 5,000 miles for mental health

PUBLISHED: 09:45 30 October 2020 | UPDATED: 10:28 30 October 2020

Matt Colley is cycling 5,000 miles around Norfolk to raise awareness and money for mental health charities. Photo: Sonya Duncan

Matt Colley is cycling 5,000 miles around Norfolk to raise awareness and money for mental health charities. Photo: Sonya Duncan

Matt Colley has been tackling his depression by getting on his bicycle

Day one and the open road beckons for Matt Colley. Photo: Matt ColleyDay one and the open road beckons for Matt Colley. Photo: Matt Colley

Hello, Norfolk. I’m Matt (known by many people as ‘Colo’, to rhyme with ‘follow’), and I’ve suffered from depression since my late teens. As I enter my forties, I feel a lot better equipped to live with my illness; I’ve learnt so many good coping strategies and techniques over the years that I can now steer myself through all but the most acute symptoms of my condition.

However, like many people, this year has proved to be extremely challenging. I started my own business in August last year, and it was just beginning to gain traction when the pandemic struck and wiped out most of my business in one fell swoop.

During lockdown I became insular, and my motivation waned. I was drinking too much, eating too much and doing too little exercise. On a few occasions, however, when ‘daily exercise hour’ became a national phenomenon, I took my road bike out for a spin in the countryside. It felt good, but somehow the habit never stuck.

Then I saw an article in the Eastern Daily Press about a campaign by former North Norfolk MP Sir Norman Lamb to encourage people to group together and ‘Walk 500 Miles’ during August. Struck by a burst of inspiration and motivation, I wondered whether I’d be able to cycle 500 miles in a month…

Seven days in and the sun is shining on Matt's ride. Photo: Matt ColleySeven days in and the sun is shining on Matt's ride. Photo: Matt Colley

Two hours later I’d written a press release, opened social media accounts and emailed Sir Norman. After a very encouraging phone conversation with him, I pushed on with my plans and contacted the EDP to see if they’d be interested in running a story about it. I was over 16 stone, totally unfit and generally in poor mental and physical health.

By the end of August, I had smashed my target: I cycled 640 miles (including an epic 66-mile ride on the final day), and raised more than £3,000. Buoyed by my success, and by the corresponding improvement in my physical and mental health (I lost more than a stone in weight over the course of the month), I decided that cycling was a habit I needed to continue.

But how could I ensure that I kept up with my new-found routine over the unappealing winter months? It would seem an awful shame to just bask in the glow of my achievement for a while and then slip back into bad habits.

Matt Colley will cycle through every village in Norfolk to raise money for charity. Picture: Matt ColleyMatt Colley will cycle through every village in Norfolk to raise money for charity. Picture: Matt Colley

‘Wildlife photography saved my life’

And what of the greater good? All the people struggling against adversity to try to make Norfolk a better, more inclusive place? If I can keep cycling, surely I can keep helping too? So, I hatched a plan: I pledged to ride 5,000 miles, travelling through every single village in Norfolk en route. I chose five organisations that mean a lot to me, and pledged to split any proceeds five ways.

But it doesn’t stop there. I want to help facilitate conversations, shining a light on anything positive and community-spirited that’s happening across the county. I want to ask the people of Norfolk: what could you do (or, indeed, what are you already doing) to make your community a better place? Whether it’s supporting a shielding neighbour, volunteering at a local food bank or even doing something as crazy as me, what do you have to lose?

You’ll definitely feel better within yourself for helping out and putting smiles on people’s faces, and those people in turn will feel more positive and more inclined to help. It’s a virtuous circle.

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Above all else, though, I want to remind anyone who is experiencing mental health problems that they’re not alone. It’s okay to feel bad, and it’s okay to ask for help.

As I write this, I’m having a ‘bad anxiety day’; I can feel a knot in my chest, and pressure around my temples, as well as a foreboding sense of dread about the world around me.

But I will allow this feeling to sit there, knowing that it will pass. And when it does, I’ll get back on the bike and go and find some more inspiration from the people of this fantastic, beautiful, picturesque and historic county that we are so lucky to call home.

All being well, I’ll see you on the road. Be kind to each other, and take care!

How you can help

I am raising money for five different Norfolk-based organisations, each of which plays a vital role in supporting the community and promoting mental health, wellbeing or inclusivity. They are:

Sir Norman Lamb’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund

The 12th Man

Norwich City Community Sports Foundation

Norwich Soup Movement

Norfolk and Waveney Mind

It’s difficult to ask people for money in such a challenging environment, but I guarantee that every penny I receive will make a tangible, bottom-line difference to the people of Norfolk. However, I do need the help and support of sponsors to keep out on the road.

If you work for, or know of, a company that would be interesting in helping me with the costs of keeping myself on the road over the winter months, do please contact me at colofivethousand@gmail.com It’s impossible for me to ride everywhere from my base in Norwich, so I’ll need petrol to get to the further reaches of the county. I’ll need season-appropriate riding gear, as well as accessories and maintenance to keep the bike roadworthy.

Remember, sponsorship isn’t just about giving me money; it’s about helping me to start conversations, support charities and community organisations, and essentially dedicate myself to making Norfolk a better place. Whether you’re an individual, a business, a charity or a group of friends, I want you to be involved.

I’ve already been given fantastic support by Egg Cup Web Design (providing a webpage and SEO support), Wensum Print (posters, flyers and business cards) and Bicycle Links (cycling advice and access to mechanics); if you’d like to get involved, I’d love to hear from you.

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