#50 For A Reason #9: Helping You On Your Bike
Picture a bright, dry day (if you can!) and one of the things many of you will now have in your mind’s eye is a carefree bike ride, perhaps with the family, perhaps on your own. Learning to ride a bike is one of life’s milestones and I would bet that each and every one of you will be able to recall your first wobbly attempts to go it alone without stabilisers. It has to be one of the best feelings ever!
In just a couple of weeks’ time, there will be thousands of happy wee faces bombing up and down their street on shiny new bikes, proud parents watching on as bells are rung and wheelies are pulled.
We are a nation of cyclists; from members of parliament to four year old kids. Imagine then, if you’re child, or mum, or friend was one of the hundreds of people for whom enjoying this simple, much-loved past-time was a huge challenge.
I caught up with keen cyclist Emma Burtles who is working with the Wellbeing team at Live Active Leisure and NHS Tayside Learning disability service to help develop the ‘No Limits Cycling Project’ that is currently running at Bell’s Sports Centre. The idea stemmed from an initiative by Blazing Saddles, a leading Scotland wide project that supports the creation of All Ability Cycling hubs in a number of areas.
Here in Perth, LAL saw it as an excellent opportunity for further enhancing their Wellbeing services and could see immediately the benefits in cycling for people with specific health and social needs. Enjoying the simple pleasure of riding a bike with a group of friends is something we should all be able to do.
The group currently meet on a Wednesday at Bell’s Sports centre and in the first year it has focused on supporting people with disabilities, particularly children and young people and their carers. Sport and active recreation can be difficult for disabled children to access and this is particularly true of cycling, usually because of a lack of suitable bikes.
Specially adapted bikes are very expensive and financially prohibitive for the majority of individual families. This is where the group steps in; No Limits Cycling has borrowed specially adapted bikes and tandems from Blazing Saddles to provide an opportunity for people to get out and about for a cycle. (You might have seen the many variations if you were one of the people out and about at our 50th Birthday Celebrations at Bell’s Sports Centre.)
Cycling can offer independence in travel, build strength and fitness, help with balance and co-ordination, build confidence, create social opportunities and give individuals and families a chance for a fun, sociable activity.
Emma Burtles, who is pushing the project forward, knows only too well the huge benefits cycling can bring to a young child. Here son Alfie has Cerebral Palsy and is unable to walk or support himself physically.
“Alfie loves the No Limits Cycling group and in fact, it’s the only time he is independently mobile. He uses a Race Running bike which he pushes along with his feet and this has been amazing for his leg strength. We’re a family of enthusiastic cyclists and I always felt it was a real shame we couldn’t enjoy a day out altogether. It’s a really difficult thing for able bodied people to appreciate, but this group has made a big difference to all of us.”
Currently there are very few bikes available in Perth and Kinross and the bikes borrowed from the national charity, Blazing Saddles, will be removed by April 2016 in order to give support to other hubs. Emma is working closely with the No Limits Cycling partners to raise funds to ensure this group remains permanent and is given an opportunity to grow and develop.
The hope is to purchase 16 bikes including tandems, tricycles, hand bikes and a wheelchair bike. These will be based at Bells Sports Centre in Perth and will offer 8 – 10 sessions a week for groups, half of which would be aimed at young people and 2 – 4 sessions a week for individuals and families.
We’ve chatted a lot about young people here, but Emma explained the huge benefits that a tandem or wheelchair bike can bring to older people. Physical activity is a big player in the fight against dementia and of course, loneliness is one of the most heart-breaking social issues of our time. Group sessions, out on bikes, could help all of this.
The sessions will be run with at least one staff member or trained Bike Ride Leader plus trained volunteers and will take place across all locations in Perth and Kinross. Much like the Stride For Life project, the group would aim to recruit volunteers and train them as Bike Ride Leaders (adapted bikes) with a particular focus on young volunteers who would then work in group sessions or as a ‘befriender’ taking individuals out for rides to ensure respite for carers.
In the long term the aim is that bikes will also be available for hire to families or individuals for longer periods of time, where possible which means you could borrow a bike for a long weekend away or perhaps for a holiday. And, much like the 50th Birthday Events, the fleet of bikes could be taken out to events for everyone to enjoy.
“The group is so well used and we know with our own fleet of bikes we’d be able to offer so much more to the community at large.”
I chatted with Emma at length yesterday, and I thought for a long time about the days, weeks and months of joy my own son has derived from riding his bike. Only this summer he spent six weeks riding round Europe. And for me, a spin or two round the North Inch when I’m feeling under pressure is always a big help in clearing my head. Simple things we take for granted.
Gill McShea who heads up the Wellbeing function for Live Active Leisure, is currently writing many, many funding applications and together she and Emma are determined to keep this amazing initiative running past April.
If you’d like to help:
- Do you know of any local businesses or philanthropists who may want to be involved? £1k - £3k can buy a bike for this great project.
- Do you have an old tandem that you don’t use and could donate?
- Volunteer - either on regular or occasional basis