A team of 32 cyclists powered their way from Hertford's Bridge of Sighs to its Venetian namesake — and raised more than £300,000 to boost student access to Oxford.

Bridge to Bridge cycle ride

By Helen Massy-Beresford

There was no yellow jersey up for grabs, but when a group of 32 Hertfordians arrived in Venice they had cycled almost a third of the distance of this year’s Tour de France – in just 11 days.

The Bridge to Bridge bike ride was launched to tie in with the 2014 centenary of Hertford’s own Bridge of Sighs, where it began. It finished 1,100km later at its namesake in Venice – and raised more than £300,000 for student access.

The Bridge to Bridge group was a mixed bunch, from serious cyclists used to time and endurance trials to more recreational bikers. Past and present college members, they were all united by a desire to show just how far Hertford is prepared to go to improve access.

Spurred on by encouragement on social media and undeterred by scrapes, bruises, punctures and the odd map-reading failure, the team finally arrived in Venice on Tuesday 29 July.

“On the last day, we did 98km, about 60 miles,” said Hertford Principal Will Hutton, who had led the team of undergraduates, graduates, alumni, staff and friends of the college through three countries to the finish line. “A couple of weeks ago the idea of cycling 60 miles in a day would have seemed impossible.”

The ride was the brainchild of Terry Hughes (Physics, 1982), a keen supporter of Hertford who believed in encouraging applications from schools and regions that have been sparsely represented at Oxford. He died soon after the project was announced.

“After the tragedy of Terry dying, his wife Maria decided to do the race in his memory and we thought, ‘We’re going to pull this off in style,’” said Mr Hutton.

“We immediately thought it had to be for student support; it had to correspond to Hertford’s traditions.”

Hertford was the first college to actively encourage applicants from grammar and non-fee-paying schools, in 1965. In the 1970s became one of the first all-male colleges to admit women.

It works hard to improve access for students from lower-income backgrounds. Around 65 per cent of Hertford offers to UK applicants go to students from the state sector, and the college appointed its first ever Outreach Fellow, Dr Jamie Castell last year.

It gives additional £1,000-a-year grants to students eligible for Oxford Opportunity Bursaries.

Mr Hutton said: “The money raised cements that for a long time to come, but we’re thinking of additional things that we can do too. Our target was £250,000.

“It’s not just undergraduates – there are increasingly problems for graduates to find funding, especially in the humanities and in some cases in the social sciences. The target is one way or another to enlarge the possibilities for those from lower-income families through a combination of work with undergraduates, graduates and outreach initiatives.”

For Mr Hutton and team, the Bridge to Bridge bike ride epitomised that same sense of making possibilities into reality. “The last leg had a more recreational feel to it – there was a growing incredulity that we could do it,” he said. “When we set forth from Hertford I really wasn’t sure I could manage it. As it went on the sense of achievement grew. Arriving in Venice was just fantastic.”

All images by Claire Blake