I visited the founders and management team of Sanitation First early October and they provided an update on the work they are doing and the significant progress they have made. Their team on the ground in India is working as hard as ever to educate, develop and service the solutions they have already established and they have every right to be proud of what they have done so far.

Some key points I took away from the meeting was just how good their work is. Not just in terms of efforts, but the actually legacy of the ecosan toilets that they have put in place. Did you know the first one was installed in 2005 and is still being used today? It’s still keeping children at school, girls safe from harm and yes the waste is still fertilising crops.

They have also focused a good part of their attention on young girls. The stigma attached to young girls and their periods is huge in India and the long and short of this is that they are not going to school when they start. That’s changing and with the work the project CODERED is undertaking, more funds are needed as there is so much more work to do.

In fact, more funds are needed full stop. We know that is always true of any charity, but pandemics do impact donations and with their work financially ‘hand to mouth’ its extremely frustrating for them not being able to plan ahead. I can’t make a significant donation myself, and certainly not one that is going to make a dent in what they do. But I can offer my services to re-schedule the London to Brussels bike ride and therefore that is what I have decided to do.

Hopefully, the details on the rest of this site will inspire you to take up the challenge. And hopefully, the continued work of the charity will inspire you to do so in the knowledge that you will be riding your bike for pleasure, so that others may live. It really is that easy.

Route Update

Following the change of destination from Amsterdam to Brussels, I have studied what feels like the whole of Northern France and Belgium in Google Streetview in order to find us all the best route. It brought good news.

Fortunately, there are no extra marks for taking the most direct route to Brussels so for this trip we will weave and wiggle our way through some of the more worthy places in order to fill the phones up with extra photos along the way. Leaving Calais for example, which hardly presents itself as a picture-postcard, we will head north in the knowledge that the beaches of Dunkirk await us.

Christopher Nolan directs the war movie Dunkirk on the beaches of Dunkirk in the exact spot where 76 years ago today, 100,000 soldiers were evacuated. The 5,000 extras are on the beach at the time the little ships arrived from England.

Operation Dynamo, the evacuation from Dunkirk, involved the rescue of more than 338,000 British and French soldiers from the French port of Dunkirk between 26 May and 4 June 1940. The evacuation, sometimes referred to as the Miracle of Dunkirk, was a big boost for British morale.

I am hoping that at this point, around 30 miles into Day 2 that the team get an equally vital lift in morale as this could be a little windy! After leaving Dunkirk we are blessed with some long flat cycling routes that allow us to hop through the small villages of Northern France and Belgium, making sure of course that we find plenty of opportunities to top up on espresso, water, pastries and I suspect the odd beer too.

The Cathedral City of Ypres

After briefly visiting the city of Ypres, another historical city, this time from World War 1, our journey ventures south and back into France as our destination of the city of Lille awaits. With some good fortune, dinner will be a brasserie affair, outside with a little bit of the late June sun to soothe our tired legs.


The final day of the ride will appeal to those that know their cycling history as it takes in small sections of the Paris Roubaix and Tour of Flanders classic races.

The Paris–Roubaix is a one-day professional men’s bicycle road race in northern France, starting north of Paris and finishing in Roubaix, at the border with Belgium. It is one of cycling’s oldest races, and is one of the ‘Monuments’ or classics of the European calendar, and contributes points towards the UCI World Ranking.

Andre Greipel (Team Lotto Soudal) on the Koppenberg climb pictured during Tour of Flanders men elite WC

And if the flat cobbles near Roubaix weren’t enough to wake you up, I’m pretty confident that by the time you arrive at the bottom of the famous Koppenberg things will be different. Koppenberg (literally “Heads Mountain”) is a 77 m (253 ft) high hill in Oudenaarde, the Flemish Ardennes, Belgium. “Koppen” is an abbreviation for cobblestones which in Dutch slang language are called kinderkoppen, or “children’s heads”. This climb is part of the route of the Tour of Flanders professional cycling race and feared by many because of its steepness (22% on the trickiest parts) and because of its cobblestones. This makes the Koppenberg difficult even for top professionals. Quite often, riders slow to the point of losing their balance, especially those at the back of the peloton who have to dismount and scramble to the top on foot.

It’s not all cobbles though as we find ourselves back onto flatter ground following rivers, canals and railway lines staying away from the traffic wherever we can.

Belgian Cycling Paths

Naturally, things get a little busier as the group gets closer to Brussels and by now the legs are re-engergised from the site of the famous city ahead of us. Whilst IBIS hotels are not known for their luxury, they are known for their good showers and after a quick change and a short walk into the main city we find ourselves at last in the Grand Place, Brussels for a very special night out.

Grand Place, Brussels

See you there…

Sanitation First

Sanitation is the single most cost-effective public health intervention to reduce child mortality.
(World Bank, 2006)

Every year, over 800,000 children under five die from some form of diarrhoea based disease; dirty hands, flies and contaminated earth make home a deadly place to be. Our ecosan toilets have transformed the lives of 350,000 people in India and Africa. Whole communities are healthier, adults can go to work, and children can stay in school. By earning more and spending less on medication, people are much better off. This all adds up to a brighter future full of opportunity for everyone.

A Global Sanitation Crisis

We currently live in a world where more people in India own a mobile phone than a toilet. This shocking lack of basic sanitation leads to the contraction of diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio, which are all carried by faecally contaminated water.

Too weak to attend work or school, many people are forced to buy expensive medicine, becoming trapped in an endless cycle of poverty. As well as being a public health issue, sanitation is also, undoubtedly, a major contributor to social injustice and poverty.

The nutrients found in an adult’s human waste contain the same amount of nutrients that are required to grow enough cereal to sustain that same adult. It’s almost as if nature intended people to recycle their waste and create more food!

Sanitation First has a vision of everyone having access to a safe and hygienic toilet. Toilets are the stepping-stones towards a better future for people living in acute poverty, as basic sanitation is the linchpin that connects all other forms of development. Without improved sanitation, poverty will not be eradicated.

We will always employ the right system to best suit the needs of our users, and our work fits broadly into three categories: community, schools and family.

Read about the work Sanitation First undertook following the last Ripples Charity Bike Ride in this mind-blowing photo book below.

For more information, please visit