A West Midlands man who has a learning disability and had never ridden a bike has started cycling thanks to a scheme run by Midland Mencap and funded by the West Midlands Emergency Active Travel Fund.
In July, Tom Kirby aged 29, from Kings Heath, Birmingham signed up for the Parkride Extravaganza scheme which was designed to encourage people of all abilities to be more active during the pandemic. As a result of taking part he learnt to cycle, and his confidence was boosted so much that he bought an e-trike.
(l-r) Steve Bradley, Parkride Midland Mencap; Tom Kirby; Keith Burdett, Parkride Midland Mencap
Speaking on International Day of Disabled People, (December 3), Tom said: “I started the scheme at Cannon Hill park in July where I was shown how a bike works and how to set the right height. I tried a few bikes before I found one that was right for me.
“I didn’t think I would be able to cycle; I’m learning something completely new and it’s helping me feel a new way of being independent. It might be scary at first, but it’s an enjoyable challenge and I’m outside in the fresh air!
“My confidence has increased so much this year that as well as committing to cycling by getting an e-trike, I have also put in lots of training and managed to compete in and finish the Virtual London Marathon.”
The scheme Tom benefitted from was part of this summer’s Roll and Stroll campaign which was delivered jointly by the West Midlands Combined Authority’s (WMCA) Wellbeing team, whose Include Me initiative provided support and guidance, and Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), which is part of the WMCA.
In addition, TfWM has worked closely with local authorities to link their local cycling routes and plans into the region wide Starley Network. This means for the first time the region has one, easier-to-understand cycle network set out in the Starley Network Map.
Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “This summer’s launch of the Roll & Stroll campaign, together with our 500-mile Starley Network cycling plan for the region demonstrates our commitment to ensure that active travel plays an important role in our plan for safer, greener – and better connected – travel across the region.
“It’s vital that as many people as possible have the ability to make travel choices – including choosing healthy cycling options. That’s why it was great that the Parkride Extravaganza promoted opportunities for people to get out and exercise, especially during the pandemic when access to open spaces and fresh air has been so important to so many.
“If we’re going to cut car emissions as part of our #WM2041 plan to become a carbon zero region, it means improving other travel options such as the Metro expansion, our plans for new stations, more electric buses - and cycling. And it’s vital that these options are open to as many people as possible.
“Tom’s example shows the benefits that can be achieved if we continue to provide everyone across the West Midlands with more safe cycling opportunities - and all year round not just in summer months.”
A total of 269 families and individuals took part in this year’s Parkride Summer Extravaganza which included a variety of outdoor events 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. Weekly pop up cycling sessions were held in Walsall, Birmingham, Solihull, Sandwell and Coventry.
Midland Mencap, the charity running the sessions, provided support to individuals, their families and carers regardless of need. Steve Bradley, Midland Mencap health & wellbeing coordinator said: “It’s been a challenging time for so many people over the last few months. A lack of suitable opportunities to get active has really hit people with a disability hard, with many also really struggling with feelings of loneliness that being isolated has led to.
“To be able to get people cycling - no matter how many wheels they need - in and around their own community has brought many much-needed smiles, to participants, their families…and staff!”
Parkride Summer Extravaganza received £30,000 from the 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 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 networks.
WMCA portfolio holder for wellbeing and leader of Warwickshire County Council, Izzi Secombe, said: “The active travel initiatives held during the summer helped many citizens most impacted by Covid 19 including Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic, and vulnerable groups, to get out into our parks, open spaces and cycling routes and get active, building their confidence, new skills and improving their wellbeing.
“It is encouraging that these schemes are having a positive and lasting effect and are helping to change citizen’s lives.”