Qhubeka is an Nguni word meaning ‘to progress’. This is the story of how a sports commentator, an actor/designer and hundreds of sports fans around the world combined to make some progress happen.
The sports commentator is Carlton Kirby, anchor for Eurosport’s cycling coverage. The actor/designer is long time cycling fan, Alison Gayler, known to twitter users as @mountainsparrow who spotted what could be done for a good cause. Qhubeka – the good cause – is also the name of a South African charity which is associated with a top flight cycling team once managed by Brian Smith, Scottish Olympic cyclist and one of Carlton’s co-commentators at Eurosport.
A word about the cycling team. Team Dimension Data sponsors the charity and calls its web-site africasteam, because it’s based in South Africa, but also because it identifies and develops African cycling talent. Its most famous member is probably Mark Cavendish, the star Manx sprinter, former World Champion and Olympic medallist, but the team contains a nucleus of British cyclists and colleagues from previous teams, like Austrian Bernie Eisel and Australian Mark Renshaw, so it has the look of a bunch of (extremely well-paid, fit and talented) mates. Nonetheless it is a serious team and has had serious wins.
Carlton K creates what he calls a Codec for each grand tour. This is a data sheet, collated as each day passes, so he has all the info to hand – placings, jerseys, day profile, personal comments and so on. By the end of the three weeks one sheet of paper includes a textual precis of the entire race. In recent years he has shared it on Twitter for cycling fans to see. This is where Ali came in.
In 2017 she suggested that he allow her to use an image of the Codec to produce a tea towel. Another cycling fan had encouraged her to get on and do it, she says, ‘It was a useful nudge and I needed that final push, that belief that just maybe this would be worth doing…’ She contacted Carlton and he agreed that she could use his Codec for each grand tour of 2017. So after each tour she, an experienced graphic designer, worked on the Codec to bring it to a point that would print onto a tea towel.
Ali explains ‘I had to whiten the image background, you will see the original codecs are very grey….and I had some extra help from the printers to keep the codec marker pen colours true, which was a bit of a problem, but they were extremely helpful. Then I designed a surround that reflected the particular grand tour colours….the Carlton signature then had to be placed back down on the colour surround and then the image sent to the printers.’ And so the Kirby Codec Grand Tour limited edition tea towels began.
‘For the Giro 2017 I wondered if I could sell twenty, but the orders rolled in and I ordered a hundred and twenty-five from the printers, still a bit afraid I’d be left having to pay for them and take up wouldn’t be as promised.’ As it turned out she could easily have doubled or trebled the amount, but it involved a lot of work. ‘The tea towels arrived in one big flat box, and each had to be packed individually, together with a signed numbered label provided by Carlton. All rather time consuming… though getting the payments and order details in was a far more lengthy process.’
She took care to keep costs down as low as possible. ‘There were so many methods I could have used to collect funds which would have meant losing precious funds in charges, so, although some people suggested I was doing it the wrong way, at least that meant more bikes! Three grand tours took more than thirty hours a week for seven months and meant I had no time to do any of my own work, either designing or voiceovers.
Three hundred tea towels were sold for each of the Tour de France and Vuelta a España, with pre-race orders pouring in from fans who now wanted to collect the set, especially after Carlton announced them on TV. ‘They went all over the world,’ Ali says. ‘To Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore, all the UK, Eire, France, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Scandinavia and the North Pole… maybe it was Santa ordering a present for Mrs Claus!’ Each sold for £10.
‘I may increase the price if I do them again this year, as so many fans said they would have paid more. Many sent very much appreciated extra donations. Everyone was just so pleased to be helping such a fantastic charity, a charity that has great resonance with those of us who cycle and we got a little souvenir of the much-loved grand tours we watch and share together, and a bit of Carlton too, it worked as a great combination…’
In all, after costs, £5,540 was raised for Qhubeka. This purchased nearly 33 bikes, Ali had hoped for more, but a drop in the value of the pound relative to the rand meant it was just 33. Fans sent photos of their towels, framed, sewn and turned into other things. What happened next, to the tea towels, Ali, Carlton and the bikes is another story….