More than 200 people who hadn’t been in the saddle for a decade, or had ever cycled with their family, have started cycling thanks to free sessions in the region’s parks this summer.
The scheme run by Midland Mencap and supported by West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) was run to encourage people with a variety of disabilities to get active on bikes that are the most appropriate for their needs.
Called Parkride Summer Extravaganza, the thinking behind the programme was to get more people active post-pandemic, by offering the free sessions on a range of cycles including adapted bikes and trikes. A total of 269 individual members of the public or families took part in the sessions
Jerome Browne, Mencap Midland service user; Andy Street, Mayor the West Midlands; Oliver Clayton, Mencap Midland service user; Dave Pickard, head of community relations, Mencap Midland; Susan Clayton, mother of Oliver Clayton.
Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “The health and environmental benefits of cycling and active travel are clear, and we must do all we can to encourage more people to take to two wheels or two feet. I am therefore delighted that the Parkride Summer Extravaganza has proved so popular and helped to get hundreds of people cycling again.
“Earlier this summer Transport for West Midlands launched both its Roll & Stroll campaign and unveiled the 500-mile Starley Network cycling plan for the region, which shows just how seriously we take active travel and what an important role it has to play in our wider transport plans.”
Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) which is part of the West Midlands Combined Authority, devised its Roll & Stroll campaign to encourage more people to get out and about by walking or using bicycles or adapted bikes in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The behavioural-change campaign offers practical support for new cyclists and those returning, as well as safety advice. The Parkride weekly pop up cycling sessions, which are part of Roll & Stroll, were held over the summer in Walsall, Birmingham, Solihull, Walsall, Sandwell and Coventry.
Walsall mum of four Michelle Hemming took three of her children, Josue eight, Juan-Andres 10, and Jesus 11, to one of the sessions in Walsall’s Arboretum in August. She said: “The project caters for everyone with different needs and is important because it is so versatile.
“It’s also an opportunity for children to socialise and for adults to meet other parents, and its an opportunity to get out and enjoy the day, especially during the school holidays.”
The project included a variety of outdoor events across the region including taster sessions trying out different bikes in local parks, one-to-one introductions to basic cycling skills, bike maintenance, and urban cycling sessions along local cycling routes, including pop-up cycle lanes and canal routes.
Midland Mencap, the charity running the sessions, provides support to individuals, their families and carers regardless of need. Dave Pickard, head of community operations from Midland Mencap said: “We saw whole families book onto the sessions as the project allowed them all to cycle together. One booking included three generations of one family cycling together – from a six-year-old child to a 73 year old grandparent. The project allowed them to use multiple adapted cycles, which they have never used before.
“We are delighted with the results of the Parkride which achieved our main aim to encourage as many people as possible to get active through cycling during the pandemic, with our large range of adapted bicycles – which really does mean there is something for everyone.
“Cycling can be challenging form of travel and exercise, for disabled people, so to be able to start removing that barrier for people has been great. Judging by the feedback we’ve had from people who have taken part in our sessions it’s also ‘wheely’ good fun too!”
All the sessions were delivered by experts in their field who can offer guidance on local cycling facilities and services to encourage participants to cycle regularly. Midland Mencap hopes to work with local community cycling groups to continue supporting inclusive cycling once the temporary project has finished.
Roll and Stroll is delivered jointly by WMCA’s Wellbeing team and Transport for West Midlands (TfWM). Parkride Summer Extravaganza received £30,000 from WMCA’s Roll and Stroll campaign which is funded by the Emergency Active Travel Fund, the Government’s initiative to provide cash for temporary active travel projects across the country.
In addition, TfWM has worked closely with local authorities to link their local cycling plans into the region-wide Starley Network. This means for the first time the region has one, easier-to-understand network set out in the Starley Network Map which showcases the true scope of the future cycling network. TfWM will invest more than £260m in the Starley Network over the coming years, with local authorities adding to that figure as they invest in their local network.
WMCA Portfolio holder for wellbeing and leader of Warwickshire County Council, Izzi Secombe said: “We know that many disabled citizens felt particularly isolated and restricted in what they could do during lockdown, this scheme has helped more than 200 citizens get out into our parks, open spaces and cycling routes and get active, building their confidence, new skills and improving their wellbeing.
“I am delighted the cycling sessions have been a success so far and it is encouraging to note there is an appetite for similar projects in the future.”