Published: 14:38, 01 June 2021
| Updated: 12:34, 08 June 2021
A 73-year-old biker from Gravesend wants to support NHS workers dealing with a challenge 'worse than a war zone.'
Julia Stevenson has organised the Ride of Respect for thousands across the UK to raise money for a Kent based frontline workers mental health charity.
Julia wanted a Harley Davidson her whole life after hearing a group of bikers roar down the road in her home town at just 11-years-old.
After she got divorced in her 50s, she was set on living her dream and by the time she was 58 had a licence and her very own Harley.
In 2010, when soldiers were coming back from Afghanistan, she founded the charity ride where 22,500 people gathered in red to show respect and raise money for veteran's charities. This came to be called The Ride of Respect after 2011.
Riders also organise the Lee Rigby memorial ride each year and on remembrance Sunday they also ride around the M60 and M25 to create the Ring of Red as they all wear the colour form the worlds largest poppy.
This year, Julia and bikers across the country have organised the Ride of Respect on Red Road Day, June 27, for fronline workers such as nurses and care home staff.
The 73-year-old said: "I got COVID last October. I've never been so ill. The COVID crisis teams were absolutely excellent. I live on my own and I was having phone calls every day to see how I was.
Julia Stevenson, founder of Ride of Respect, speaks about how what drew her to biking
"I don't know how they do it. To me, being a veteran, it was worse than a war zone because when we go to war, we know what to expect.
"But these frontline workers were just hit with it, they didn't know and they just carry on and on. I have five nieces, all frontline workers who have worked throughout. Although they don't really discuss what has happened, you can tell that they've been through it.
"Frontline workers are now suffering terribly, some with PTSD, with stress and the pressure they've been working under.
"I just felt passionate about doing something about it. Standing on our doorstep and showing appreciation is good, but I actually know that they need the help from counselling with charities like Frontline19.
"So I decided to have a ride and ask all the bikers in the whole of the UK to organise rides in their own areas.
"It's really just a coming together for the whole country and I think it will be rather nice."
Throughout the UK, 22 rides have been organised for the event with a hope to raise £250,000.
The riders will be encouraged to wear and decorate their vehicles in red to show solidarity with frontline workers as well as donate money to the Ride of Respect website - by either making a donation or buying a shirt, pin or patch from the shop.
A GoFundMe page has also been set up which has currently raised £925.
The Kent ride will span from Nell's Cafe on Watling Street, Gravesend, to the beaches of Dungeness in Romney Marsh over 50 miles away where the local pubs have offered to serve food.
There is no set time to start the ride - just get on the road and colour it red on Saturday, June 27.
Julia asked Prince William - an avid supporter of her previous rides - to recommend a charity which would use the money well.
His staff came back to her suggesting Frontline19 a free counselling service for struggling frontline workers - like nurses, care home staff, police and paramedics.
Claire Goodwin-Fee, founder and CEO of Frontline19 from Greenhithe, says: "I’ve watched the ‘red rides’ for years and I’m thrilled that Julia and her network are doing this for Frontline19.
"I’m looking forward to taking part myself and jumping on the back of one of the bikes.
"I also want to say a huge thanks to everyone getting involved.
"The money raised will help us treat more frontline workers who put their own lives in danger for the nation over the last year and are now struggling.
"We may be coming out of lockdown, which is fantastic, but our NHS workers are feeling the effects of the last 12 months on their own mental health."