Highways England demonstrated creativity on a small budget. They took an asset that is taken for granted – a motorway – and created an opportunity to bring local people together by organising an event which had the community at its very heart. By taking the time to thank people for having lived with disruption over a long period of time, they seemingly dispelled negativity and created a fun-filled day, raising money for good causes in the process.
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Brief, objectives and budget:
The A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme is a 21-mile, £1.5 bn, Highways England road being built in Cambridgeshire over 4 years.
In spring 2019 it looked likely that just over half of the project, the Huntingdon Southern Bypass, might be ready for traffic a year earlier than originally planned – giving the opportunity for some great PR. But how could we get this, whilst at the same time recognising our genuine appreciation for the patience shown by the residents who had 3 years of construction on their door-step?
Easy – hold a once in a lifetime opportunity on the brand-new road and raise funds for charity in the process.
We knew we wanted to give everyone a memento of the event and involve the locals in the organisation, so we asked local sports clubs, and some of our A14 local supply chain, for their support – trading this off with their branding on our event banners and race numbers. This helped us keep our budget for the whole event to £15,000, with everything else being free thanks to all our project’s volunteers.
The idea, research and planning:
The A14 Integrated Delivery Team, (which includes Highways England, contractors Balfour Beatty, Costain and Skanska, plus design consultants Atkins, Jacobs) had previously hosted public trips by bus tour and a family walk through the muddy construction site, so needed this event to be different again and as inclusive as possible.
The final road surface was due to be laid in early October, so the decision was easy: we would hold both a run and a cycle on a closed road – a participant’s dream.
But which bit of the road should we use? If we could include our 750m long River Great Ouse viaduct, with stunning views of fields, fishing lakes, swans and the East Coast Mainline, we could make this the main feature. Done!
Strategy, creativity and innovation:
Meetings with three local sports clubs began in June. Our first task was to decide on the distances, participant numbers, timings and an event name.
It would have been normal to have 5km or 10km events, but this wasn’t a normal occasion. When someone suggested each event should be linked with the road number, the A14, we all thought that was perfect, so 7km and 14km was agreed. However, if this event was to be truly inclusive, we needed a suitable distance for children too, so for them we had a 1.4km run – we just needed to make sure they too would run over the Ouse bridge and back, as this was just over 1km from the start line.
To minimise risk we decided to have cycling (including time-trial, recumbent bikes and wheelchairs) in the morning and running in the afternoon. We could only accommodate 500 cars for parking purposes, so capped our numbers at 2,000 participants and encouraged them to bring spectators.
Now for a name. As the main feature would be the viaduct, this had to be included somehow. Several ideas were put forward, but the ‘The A14 Great Ouse Challenge’ was the final choice.
Throughout the life of the project we have been supporting two local charities and knew we could raise at least £20,000 if we charged a small registration fee, with 100% of the fee being split equally between them. We also encouraged participants to take the one-off opportunity to raise funds for their own club, village or favourite charity – ensuring our event raised money for as many good causes as possible.
Delivery/implementation of tactics:
Our initial PR started in July, when we used our social media channels and relationships with local parish councils to inform people the event registration would soon be open.
Registration went live in early August, and within days the 1,000 cycle spaces were booked. We knew it would be popular given the high number of people who cycle in the Cambridge area, but this was staggering. The run also very quickly reached capacity, with wait lists set up in case of cancellations.
We’d planned to use our social media channels to further publicise the event, but this wasn’t necessary. Instead we tried to encourage spectators by reminding the community of the event and the benefits of the scheme.
In September we began to talk with the local media, with BBC, ITV and the local paper confirming they would attend. Interviews were conduct with participants, old and young, plus our race director, generating some great media coverage. We even had our own photographer on hand who captured in excess of 1,700 images!
Measurement, evaluation and impact:
So, was it all worthwhile? 110% yes.
On the day the weather was grey, damp and cold, but despite this the mood was one of anticipation, challenge and then achievement. The flat road had a bit of a kick on the return leg, which did come as a a shock to most.
To see a 2-year-old little girl run the 1.4km for a stroke charity, as her Daddy had recently suffered a stroke, was moving and amazing. She was determined to do it “all by herself”, raising £3,000 in the process. Another child took part raising £450 for hedgehog rescue.
We even had a proposal of marriage at the finish line!
Families cycled together, club runners set Personal Bests (never to be broken due to the unique nature of the event) and every member of the event team went home with tired legs but an amazing sense of achievement in delivering a unique event that raised in excess of £30,000 for charity.
Our social media followers increased by over 1000 during the month of the event, with 100% positive sentiment achieved from the 1,500 comments posted about the event. Our event photography page, allowing free download of images, was also visited by nearly 600 different people.
As the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme moves towards completion, we can certainly hold our heads high knowing we have left behind some lasting memories and mementos for all who attended ‘The A14 Great Ouse Challenge’.