Alison: “My fundraising in lockdown helped grow community spirit”

What started as a personal fundraising journey for retained Warwickshire firefighter Alison Insley's Fire Family Challenge became an event that brought her community together.

Fundraising has always had a special place in Alison Insley’s heart, as she has undertaken many challenges to show support for the hospital that cared for her mum before she passed away in 2006.

But as she approached her 50th birthday this May, Alison decided to take her fundraising up a notch.

She wanted to do something that recognised the last five years she has spent as a retained Warwickshire firefighter alongside her full-time role as a librarian, as well as continue her support in her mum’s honour.

“As a firefighter, I wanted to do something to support The Fire Fighters Charity, because you just never know when you might need them,” says Alison. “I’d set myself the goal to make it to five years in the fire service, and I was chuffed to be approaching my 50th birthday with no signs of slowing down my career with the fire service. So fundraising for the Charity seemed fitting.”

A keen cyclist, she decided to take part in our Fire Family Challenge in her own unique way, by cycling 25 miles a day for 25 days, starting on the anniversary of her mum’s passing and finishing the day after she turned 50.

She had no idea just how much her event would grow, or what it would come to mean to people in her local community.

Beginning her challenge still within lockdown, Alison was lent a static exercise bike by Warwickshire FRS’s Chief. So on Saturday 9 May, 14 years to the day since her mum had passed away, Alison set off on her driveway in Kenilworth.

Having told friends and neighbours about her plans, Alison was touched to be joined by a crowd of socially-distanced supporters. And as her mile count grew, so too did the number of people who turned out to support.

“It became about something more than raising money for Charity; it was all about the mental wellbeing of my community,” says Alison. “I live in a neighbourhood with a lot of older people who hadn’t had much social interaction since lockdown started. They were able to come out and encourage me while having their own wellbeing boost, so it was win, win. The community spirit created by my one fundraising activity turned into a massive thing for my street, it was just fantastic.”

During her challenge, the government relaxed movement restrictions, meaning Alison could once more take her cycling out the roads, where she was sometimes joined by supporters as she completed her 25 mile route each morning before work. But she kept up her weekend cycles at the end of her drive, joined by supporters each time, including the Chief of Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service.

“I worked really hard on promoting my event on social media as well as sharing the wellbeing support the Charity can offer,” says Alison. “I wanted to keep things interesting for me and for those people supporting me, so I started doing themes to my weekends and planning different routes for my weekday cycles. One time I visited all the hospitals in Warwickshire, and another time I did the Shakespeare Trail. I had a VE day themed day where I dressed up in the colours of the union jack, and another where I dressed in all the colours from the Pride flag.”

For the last day of her cycle, Alison wanted to go out with a bang. She invited people from the street, friends and colleagues, and two fire engines turned up, joined by our very own Community, Corporate and Events Fundraiser Debbie Rushbrooke. In the end, there were over 100 people down the street, cheering on her final cycle from a safe distance.

“It was absolutely amazing and really emotional,” says Alison. “I’ve lived here for over 30 years and people from all walks of my life turned up at my house to wish me well. One of my neighbours is 88 and she came out of her house for the first time since lockdown started, spending a good couple of hours talking to everyone there. It was amazing, seeing so many people who’d spent so long behind closed doors, all brought together to support me.

“On top of that, I nearly doubled my fundraising target as well. I’d originally hoped to get £2,500, but in the end I raised over £4,500, so was really chuffed, especially at a time when people were out of work or on furlough leave.”

When Alison finished her Fire Family Challenge, she found she missed it so much that she decided to do a bonus extra ten days, where she raised even more money.

In total, she cycled 1,025 miles in 35 days.

“Physical activity has always been a release for me, so if I’m having a bad day I’ll get on my bike or go hit a squash ball,” says Alison. “I do have a story and I’ve had a very full life, with things affecting my confidence over the years. But instead of letting things beat me, I will keep fighting the fight and challenging stereotypes.”

Could you become our next fundraising hero?

We can’t do what we do without incredible people like Alison, who, like many amazing others, has taken part in our Fire Family Challenge this year. Our fundraising has been significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but with your support we can continue to be there for people in need in the UK fire family.

You can find out more information about ways to support us here, whether that is by taking on your own fundraising challenge, becoming a regular donor or, if you can’t afford to support us at the moment, considering leaving us a gift in your will.