An inspirational dad and his brother have pledged 12-hours of pedal power from their homes in Retford, to raise funds for the local hospice that cares for his “amazing” five-year-old daughter.

Like 1.5 million families of vulnerable people, Mat Barrowcliffe, his wife Katie, and their daughter Ella, are self-isolating at their home in Ranskill, due to COVID-19.

Now Mat is pledging to push himself to the limit by cycling for 12 hours on Saturday 16th May, the equivalent of a shift for the care team at Bluebell Wood who have supported his family since 2018.

Ella was diagnosed with a hole in her heart at the 20-week scan, so her family knew she’d have to go through open heart surgery after she was born.

A few weeks after Ella was born, Mat and Katie noticed her doing “small, jerky movements”. After an urgent referral to a neurologist, she was diagnosed with West Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy, which doctors described as a ‘storm’ in her brain.

“It’s just constant,” said Mat, 36. “I remember I was once looking after Ella on my own, and she just lay there having seizures all day. It really affected me, since it was the first day I’d spent on my own with my daughter.”

Despite all the challenges she’s faced, Ella never fails to amaze mum and dad, and Bluebell Wood have become a vital part of their support network.

“People don’t realise the extent of the services Bluebell Wood provide – the support really is fantastic, and everyone we’ve met there has been so friendly and caring” said Katie, 36.

Even now, with many families self-isolating, Bluebell Wood’s care team have continued to reach out and support families like Ella’s from afar.

“Lockdown has been difficult at times; we’ve lost our usual support network of school, healthcare, and respite at the hospice, and Ella can’t see her grandparents right now,” said Mat. “However, we’ve been having weekly video calls with one of the counsellors at Bluebell Wood, and we’ve arranged for her to have a music therapy session remotely, which is something she really enjoys.”

Mat, a keen cyclist with several triathlons and road races under his belt, was inspired to take on his epic endurance challenge with his brother Craig, 40, after Bluebell Wood launched its #LetsPledge campaign. The appeal asked supporters to pledge to help the charity when the time is right for them.

“I’ve wanted to raise money for the hospice for a while, and after cycling alongside Geraint Thomas for an hour of his virtual charity cycle, I thought I could do something like that too.”

At 8am on Saturday 16th May, the brothers will be strapping into stationary bikes in their respective homes and logging onto Zwift, a virtual training program for cyclists and runners.

While Mat is an avid cyclist, he admits he’s not sure what to expect.

“I don’t think I’ve ever ridden that far before, or under these conditions. When you’re riding outside you have the wind to stop you overheating, but inside I’ll just have a fan to keep me cool. Although Zwift can simulate going up and downhill, you also don’t get to freewheel or change position as much as you would do outside, so I’ll probably get some aches and pains that I’m not used to.

“The positive is that I’ll have my snacks and water all laid out in front of me, and Katie has offered to supply me with plenty of coffee!”

Despite the challenges, Mat and his brother, from Sturton le Steeple, are keen to give something back to the hospice that has always been there for his family.

“It’s easy to forget about charities, but so many are losing income from events that have been cancelled because of the lockdown.

“That’s one of the things that’s pushed me to do this – Bluebell Wood needs to be at the forefront of people’s minds. This fundraiser is me sitting on my bike for 12 hours; it’s nothing compared to the support we get back as a family. It really is the least I can do.”

You can support Mat and Craig by making a donation here. To ride alongside Mat during his virtual cycle, search ‘Mat Barrowcliffe’ on Zwift ahead of his challenge on Saturday 16th May from 8am – 8pm.

Click here to find out more about Bluebell Wood’s #LetsPledge campaign.