Jo Cox Way cyclists set off from Cleckheaton to London in memory of Batley and Spen MP
Ms Leadbeater, who is now Labour MP for her late sister’s Batley and Spen constituency, says the event is the “ultimate example of Jo’s legacy.
“It's everything that Jo believed in, in terms of bringing people together from different backgrounds with a shared goal. And I'm really pleased that this year is the biggest event ever.”
Around 80 mixed-ability cyclists, aged 15 to 77, were signed up to ride over 280 miles from Kirklees to the capital – though with those from local cycling groups joining briefly, there were about 100 at the start. They set off from the Princess Mary Stadium in the constituency yesterday – the event was attended by Jo’s parents Jean and Gordon Leadbeater – arriving last night in Buxton, Derbyshire. From there, they will ride to Market Bosworth in Leicestershire; on day three, to Cranfield in Bedfordshire; on day four, to Uxbridge; then on the last day to Flat Iron Square in Southwark, London.
In the wake of Jo’s death in June 2016, tributes poured in from political leaders around the world. Closer to home, North Yorkshire businessman and keen cyclist Sarfraz Mian BEM decided to create his own tribute, despite never having met the politician.
The annual Jo Cox Way ride, now in its 8th year, aims to keep the former Batley and Spen MP’s legacy alive by bringing communities together and supporting causes that were important to her.
“Riders form lasting friendships with people of different ages, from all sorts of backgrounds,” says Sarfaz.
“The ride is a big challenge but there’s real warmth. Nearly half our cyclists will be making the long journey for the first time and I know our returning riders will help them along.
“As you’d expect from a ride which starts in Yorkshire, it also offers exceptional quality and value. We’re delighted it sold out in record time this year. I never met Jo, but her determination to create a fairer, kinder world for all really touched me in 2016 and is now more relevant than ever.”
Kath Lyons, from Glusburn near Skipton, is 77 and only started cycling 11 years ago, when in preparation for a ski trip - she wanted to get her fitness levels up - bought an old bike from a friend for £25. She describes it as the “best thing I ever did”.
Kath, who is a member of both the Queensbury Queens and Ilkley Cycling Club, enjoys the sense of freedom and “feel good factor” that comes from riding, especially on one of her favourite rides in the hills around Burnsall.
“When you go out there and you look down on Burnsall, there's not a better view anywhere,” she says.
“At the basic level it just makes you feel happy. And it gives you that opportunity to feel like a child again, you know, really enjoy just being out and having a great time with your mates.”
This will be her second year participating the Jo Cox Way. “Everybody comes together. There's no point-scoring. Everybody is encouraging everybody up the hills. You've not got ‘oh we’re a faster rider, so we're better than you’. There’s absolutely none of that whatsoever,” she says.
In the UK, three times more men than women are members of cycling clubs, say organsiers. Ms Leadbeater, in a nod to her sister’s hopes for a future 50/50 split in representation between men and women in Parliament, wants to get the gender balance to the same level on the Jo Cox Way.
Meanwhile, Yaseen Fadal, 17, from Thornhill, Dewsbury, will be tackling the route.
He was head boy at Upper Batley High School, home to the Jo Cox Conference Centre, when its chair of governors, Alastair Megahy, a member of Ravensthorpe Cycling Club who had previously taken part in the ride, died in May 2022 at the age of 64.
The organisers of the event wanted to offer one of the school’s students the chance to take part in Alastair’s name, and Yaseen volunteered. His father Javed, who is recovering from mouth cancer, previously rode in the event too. He says: “I’m very proud of Yaseen. I’ve not pushed him to do it. For him to be interested after watching me is quite an honour, and for the school to nominate him in memory of Alastair is an honour as well.”
The ride raises money for The Jo Cox Foundation, the charity which works on issues the late politican was passionate about.
All the money raised will be used to help the charity bring communities together in honour of Jo’s belief, made in her maiden speech in Parliament, that "we have more in common than that which divides us".
Ms Leadbeater says: “People talk on the bike ride, about their lives, about their experiences and you will find two people chatting to each other, who on paper you would think have got absolutely nothing in common, but they will find that common ground and I think as a society, that's something we should all spend a bit more time doing.
“It's very easy to focus on the disagreement. It's very easy to get angry about the things that we disagree on. But actually, spending a bit of time with people who might have had very different life experiences from you, I think is really valuable. And that's everything that Jo was about.”
To donate towards the fundraising efforts, visit: www.justgiving.com/campaign/jocoxway2023