Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Olympic cycling stars to join cycling challenge for Hearts and Minds

Ian McGrath, founder, Hearts & Minds, with Jess Varnish and Liam Philips
Jess Varnish and Liam Phillips – who both represented Team GB at London 2012 – are to take part in the Hearts and Minds sponsored cycle challenge in Spain to help the charity fundraise £1 million for the planned Autism School of Excellence.

The sporting duo will be setting off from Malaga on 23 May, on a four day biking challenge that will finish in Gibraltar. Charity patrons Keith Duffy and Paul Scholes will also be joining Jess and Liam for the bike ride.

Jess, who competed alongside Victoria Pendleton at the Games, said: “The Hearts and Minds Challenge has made huge progress towards reaching its fundraising target. We now want to rally as many people as possible to join us on the charity ride, and help us fund a new school that will transform the lives of autistic children in Manchester. “Pedaling across Spain might sound like a pleasant ride, but cycling 300 miles in four days is no mean feat. Everyone taking part will definitely be earning their sponsorship!”

The new school will initially teach 25 pupils, aged three to 11. Comprehensive evaluations for each student will be carried out to identify their personal strengths and needs, and bespoke programmes will be developed and tailored to each individual. All classrooms will have five pupils with one teacher and two teaching assistants. The centre will also offer an on-site occupational therapist and two speech and language therapists, who will work closely with the children.

As well as working on academic skills, they will encourage the development of the pupils’ social and verbal abilities. The centre will also provide family counselling, training for parents and training for emergency services personnel on the best way to approach autistic people they may encounter in their work.

Ian McGrath, founder of Hearts and Minds, said: “The cycling challenge will provide a huge boost towards reaching our fundraising target for the Autism Centre of Excellence. We’re absolutely thrilled to have the support of Jess Varnish and Liam Phillips, who should keep us on our toes when it comes to ensuring we’re up to speed!

“We are currently looking at a number of potential locations for the school and hope to move this forward very soon. Early intervention can be very beneficial to young people with autism, so we are dedicated to providing them with an opportunity to attend a school that is catered to their needs.”

The charity is currently looking for anyone interested in supporting the bike ride or joining the team. 

More information can be found on the website: and here on the blog

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