A COVENTRY NHS charity will receive a massive donation from a Premier League football referee who is embarking on a 1700-mile fundraising cycle from England to Russia.
In honour of the World Cup in Russia, which begins on Thursday (June 14), Martin Atkinson set himself the challenge of reaching the host nation before England’s final group game.
He and his team are hoping to raise £60,000 to distribute between the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) Charity and three other organisations.
Mr Atkinson and this year’s Whistle Stop Tour team has so far raised nearly £52,000.
If the team reach their objective, this could mean up to £15,000 for the trust’s new born baby (neonatal) unit.
They departed from England’s training ground yesterday (June 11) at St George’s Park in Staffordshire.
The team was waved off by England football manager Gareth Southgate.
The aim is to reach the venue for England’s final group game in Kaliningrad against Belgium.
They will travel through France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and Poland and eventually reach their destination on June 28.
Mr Atkinson said: “It’s going to be a huge challenge, but it’s one I think we’re all relishing.
“In 2016 we cycled to all 20 Premier League grounds, which totalled around 1000 miles, so we’re really upping the ante for this one. “We’ve been saying it’ll be 18 days of hurt, but it’s all for some brilliant charities, so we’re ready to go through that pain barrier.”
Barry Phillipson, the team’s sports therapist, had his twins cared for in the trust’s neonatal unit – which he and Mr Atkinson visited.
Jo O’Sullivan, head of the UHCW Charity said: “We are amazed and so grateful to Martin Atkinson and his team for undertaking such a huge challenge to help our babies and their families on our neonatal unit.
“Barry returned to the unit last month for an emotional visit to meet neonatal staff, and was joined by Martin Atkinson.
“Three years ago, the staff on the neonatal unit cared for his twins.
“Barry was able to show Martin the great work the team does, caring for some of the sickest babies in the region, including many tiny babies who were born very prematurely.
“We are hoping they raise enough funds to provide a video link for each baby’s cot, so families can capture those special moments, such as when they open their eyes in the middle of the night for the first time.”
You can keep up to date with the riders on their official Twitter handle @WhistleStopTour2018 and you can donate here.