The obvious (and very boring) answer would of course be ‘one at a time’.
But that’s just no fun. So, in a world where supersizing is the only way to go, we’ve done just that.
How do you get a community on a bicycle – why 10 people at a time of course!
At the beginning of the year, instead of making many, quickly forgotten resolutions I decided that my one goal would be to encourage as many people back on to bicycles as possible (New Year’s Revolution).
Now, with the spring sunshine and lighter days starting to penetrate, garden sheds are being unlocked and dusty, rusty bicycles starting to emerge, blinking into the sunlight.
My mechanic’s muscles have had a bit of a workout over the last few weeks as I’ve had the pleasure of bringing a few bikes back out of hibernation, ready for re-use for friends and family to take those first wobbly journeys back into cycling (How do you get a family on a bicycle?).
But there are always more people to reach. A revolution to organise. And that indeed is what’s happening. At the beginning of 2015 a colleague and I put together a funding bid for the social enterprise in which I’m based. The bid was for bicycles, lots of them. Most specifically to operate a Community Bike Scheme. The first in the county.
Guess what – WE GOT THE MONEY!
The successful funding has secured ten new bicycles and one electrically assisted Cargo Bike as well as helmets, high-visibility clothing, lights, locks and basic tools.
The very simple aim – to provide bicycles on long-term loan and free of charge to a very special community.
West Howe is a somewhat notorious area of Bournemouth whose demography is synonymous with social and economic deprivation. The area itself has a (not always deserved) reputation for being a hotspot for trouble, crime, a community with challenges. As I wrote previously it’s also an area where health inequality and unemployment are significantly higher, where public transport options are limited and expensive and where poverty and low expectations are endemic.
However it’s also a place that is so much more than a few mis-guided labels, it’s a place with a strong sense of community at its core and within it, individuals who are dedicated, passionate about the area and who are working hard to improve not only their neighbourhood, but their own lives and the lives of those around them.
Bicycles on their own aren’t going to fix the long-term issues outright, of course not, but they do contribute so many positive factors including the opportunity for improving transport, exercise, links to employment, learning and well-being. What the scheme will do is provide that means of transportation, freedom and choice for the very people who could most benefit from and sometimes least afford it.
It’s also a statement of encouragement and respect for the many residents who work hard within the locality to achieve at every level, despite the negative labeling and low expectations from the wider area.
The 10 hybrid city bikes (trusty Raleighs) will be available on long term loan for up to one year, along with all essential equipment such as locks, helmets and pannier racks. Child seats and tag-along trailers are also available.
Participants sign up to undertake a cycle safety session (pre-hire) and regular checks and liaison will be made throughout the 12 months to help iron out any issues which may arise be they practical, mechanical or personal. During this time recipients will also be encouraged to begin saving to purchase their own bike at the end of the hire period.
The Cargo bike will be used to transport equipment and make deliveries/collections for the community shop – based at the heart of the area and currently staffed entirely by local volunteers. There’s also a strong contingent in favour of it being a taxi service for nights out to the pub, but so far we’ve declined that suggestion!
Since being awarded the grant preparation has been flat out to select, compile and order a huge list of bicycles and equipment. It’s been a real community process too with local businesses commissioned to provide everything from the Cargo bike to branding materials. Bigger corporations with local stores/bases have also provided support in terms of generous discounts, time and resources to help the scheme unfold.
And to launch of the scheme itself – the plan is begin with a mass collection. In a little under two weeks we’ll be conducting a celebratory ride to bring the bikes home. Collecting them from the store and winding our way through the town, back into the community where they will belong. Ridden by an intrepid (and quite nervous) crew of local residents and arriving to an enthusiastic welcome party.
After that of course, the fun, and hard work really begins with a plethora of workshops, cycle skills groups and group rides planned for the wider community as a whole. The continuing opportunity to embrace that bicycle love.
Over the coming weeks I’ll be writing about the grand collection ride as well and the ongoing work as it unfolds, following the progress of the scheme, the bicycles, their new owners, cycling and beyond.
How do you get a community on a bicycle? Looks like we’ll find out!
To find out more about West Howe and the Charity West Howe Community Enterprises go to: www.westhowe.net