Leeds MP completes cycling challenge for Yorkshire Holocaust charity

'Old man in lycra' Fabian Hamilton, 67, rides 55 miles for a cause he passionately supports


Leeds North East Labour MP Fabian Hamilton has completed a 55-mile cycling challenge, raising nearly £3,000 for the Holocaust Survivors Friendship Association (HSFA) and to support the “wonderful and extraordinary” permanent exhibition at Huddersfield University, Holocaust Centre North. 

The Jewish MP also rode in memory of an HSFA founder, Lillian Black, and his great-grandmother, Raina Sévilla, who was murdered at Birkenau in July 1942. 

Setting off from Huddersfield University shortly after 10am, the 67-year-old reached the Beth Shalom Holocaust Centre and Museum in Nottinghamshire for a reviving cup of tea before it closed for the day.

The weather forecast had led him to expect perfect cycling conditions. Instead, “it rained all the way to Beth Shalom. But having said that, it was fantastic.” 

He completed the challenge in four hours, 35 minutes. “The best bit was 3,500 feet of hills, which is unprecedented for me.” 

Mr Hamilton rides daily, having taken up cycling at the age of 44 when his doctor warned him that his health was at risk. “I started just doing circuits around Pudsey, two-to-three miles, feeling a bit puffed.

“Then I had the bright idea that I should start cycling from where I was staying in London, my mum's house in North-West London, to Parliament, which is seven-and-a-half miles each way.” 

“You’ve heard of a Mamil – a middle-aged man in lycra? I’m an Omil – an old man in lycra! My wife hates me wearing it.” 

The HSFA was founded in 1996 by a Leeds-based group of Holocaust survivors to document and share their stories.  

They have since created a permanent exhibition at Huddersfield University for visitors to both experience the testimony of survivors and try to appreciate the horrors they endured. 

But since the pandemic hit, and Lottery funding has diminished, the centre has struggled to raise the money to continue its work 

Mr Hamilton was supported by over 80 donors, including MPs David Davis and Sarah Champion. 

The money raised well exceeded his target and the centre was “absolutely delighted. I'm really, really pleased.

It was essential to maintain its work beyond the deaths of survivors, he stressed.

He had thought a lot about his murdered relative Raina Sévilla during the ride, in particular: “What must it have been like for this poor woman who would become my great-grandmother without knowing it? She knew she had a grandson but that was it.  

"We just can't allow people not only never to forget but actually to never deny that these things happened.” 

Mr Hamilton has completed a cycle challenge every year since 2010, save for 2015, because of the general election, and 2020, due to pandemic restrictions.

His latest heralds the start of what he intends to be a long-term association with the centre. “I've said to Alessandro [who runs it], ‘I will be your parliamentary contact, as the local MP for many of the people involved [and] as somebody who's passionately committed to it’.

“I will be an instrument to help; I will be part of the collective to ensure that they can achieve what they need to and continue this indefinitely. I'm passionately committed to that.”

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