Sustrans are a UK charity with the aim to make cycling easier and more accessible to everyone. They have experience in delivering inclusive cycling projects and training all across London. Sustrans are currently working on a cycling project in partnership with The Queen Mary Hostel. The hostel works hard to offer support and accommodation to vulnerable women with complex needs, including mental health issues.
The Queen Mary Hostel Cycling Project is running an intensive cycle training programme for their women residents after a successful 10 week pilot. The ethos of the hostel is to focus on the wellbeing of the women, focusing on a preventative approach to their health; as many of the women have poor physical health due to medication. The Hostel therefore felt that a cycling club would bring a big positive impact to its female residents.
Through TfL’s Cycling Grants London scheme, Sustrans are providing training to two staff members, so that they are able to run the project long-term, whilst funding the continuation of cycling sessions during this time. These staff are called ‘cycling champions’ and the training includes how to plan and lead bike rides, organise a bike loan system, and basic bike maintenance. CGL have also funded e-bikes for the hostel, as these will make it easier for women with limited fitness to join in the sessions, with the aim to transition into traditional bikes once fitness and confidence improves.
The beneficiaries of this project are exclusively the women residing in the hostel. These women are vulnerable and living with complex needs, which requires medium to high support in terms of mental health issues, lack of confidence, and training to use the hostels bikes. The surrounding area is lacking in space and the roads are fairly busy, which can make it challenging for these women to learn to ride.
When starting the rides, a lot of the women were very anxious to get on the bikes, but now they are said to be thriving and even racing one another. A favourite memory of one of the project leads is in seeing the progress of one particular woman who could not even get on the bike at first, but later progressed to 3 mile rides with a big smile on her face.
Michelle, participant: “I’ve turned up to every session because I love it so much! I have found them really good because I have a lot of new skills to learn. Getting out and about is fun and I’m getting far into my level 1.”
Patience, participant: “I have come to all the sessions. Each week we gain a lot of skills in lots of different ways. Last week we raced. I’m so happy I was able to do it as I didn’t think I could, because I haven’t ridden since I was six years old. I can ride a bike with more confidence now. Learning how to do something new is scary and hard, so thank you to the instructors.”
When asked what advice they would give to similar projects, Sustrans said to remember that projects like these are a marathon, not a sprint. The most important thing is to convince people to come along to the first session, and recognising that people do have difficulties and not everyone can come every week. The end goal should be to build confidence and give people the freedom to go about life; once this is achieved it is amazing.
At the end of the three years of CGL funding this project will have been set up for Queen Mary Hostel to run independently. Westminster council has also promised to support this by providing a cycling instructor even after this time. Sustrans will be monitoring this project in order to support other similar projects, expanding this model to other areas.
Wayne, Instructor Trainee: “This has been a great adventure and I feel very proud.”