Wheels for All is a national UK charity, who promote inclusive cycling through a range of community engagement programmes and is best known for its namesake Wheels for All initiative. Their centres offer adults and children with disabilities and differing needs the opportunity to experience the joy and freedom of cycling, using adapted cycles with the support and guidance of Wheels for All trained leaders.
We were lucky enough to be welcomed along to one of the Wheels for All centres in Leatherhead a few months ago to see what goes on at the sessions. It was such a privilege to be able to see first-hand the work that Cycling Projects are doing. The passion of the volunteers and the joy that the sessions were bringing to the participants was clear to see.
Stolen Goat are all about helping people to find their own form of Freedom and empowering more people to be able to get outdoors and ride. So we’re very excited to announce we will be supporting Cycling Projects and Wheels For All. This January, we will be donating 10% of our online sales to Cycling Projects.
We recently caught up with the CEO of Cycling Projects, Ian Tierney, to learn more about the charity’s work and their vision for the future. Continue reading to hear Ian’s insights…
An Interview with Cycling Projects CEO, Ian Tierney
“It’s about creating a network of provision. Enabling people of all abilities to cycle… ensuring that people have got a choice and they can cycle on their own terms.”
In 2022, the charity Cycling Projects will be coming into its 30th year of delivery. It’s evolved a lot. It’s been something that has had a very focused local level impact, right through to a regional level – becoming a network of provision. Our aim is to enable people of all abilities to cycle. That could be through making adapted cycles available, and offering specific support packages. It could also be through working with partners to ensure that people have got a choice, and they can cycle on their own terms.
The initial engagement usually comes through our Wheels for All programme. Wheels for All centres offer a setting where people can have access to a broad range of adapted cycles, and meet like-minded people. It gives people the opportunity to come along and try cycling out – to get used to it. They can be part of the community, and if they want to they can then progress their cycling and weave it into their lifestyle.
We’ve got good footholds in some regions, but at the moment it’s not a balanced offer. These footholds are where we’ve been lucky enough to have investments in place to establish a structure within that local community. To do this we work with local authorities, public health partners and other charities. But there’s so much more to do and we’re just scraping the surface. Ultimately, we want to create more Wheels for All centres and therefore establish a more formal network of centres across the country to inspire people to get involved. From participants, to volunteers and working with more partners.
We want to allow more people to enjoy cycling, and to make it a part of their daily lifestyle as much as possible.
“My role is often about connecting people, showing them where the opportunities are… meeting the participants is definitely always a highlight.”
I’m now the CEO of the charity, Cycling Projects. We’ve grown in terms of who we are as an organisation. Even though our HQ is based in the North West of England, we’ve now got a number of partnerships across the country. My work has allowed these partnerships to flourish: to grow, to be recommissioned or to look at opportunities to get other partners (such as other charities) involved.
Cycling Projects and Wheels for All exists, because there’s always been a gap in the market from other cycling organisations who haven’t gone that step further and provided a long-term solution as to why people who have a disability, or are inactive, aren’t cycling. We put those people who are at the tipping point of wanting to be active and needing the support to get started, at the core of what we offer. It’s really important that we think about firstly what the barriers are – and then how we can overcome them. Once you get these key ingredients in place, Wheels for All centres can flourish. They can be sustainable and they can become a key fabric of the local community.
My role is often about connecting people. Showing them what the opportunities are, and how we can make them happen. Essentially, the vision of the charity is to ensure there’s a Wheels for All offering in every local authority. We’ve still got a way to go, but by working with partners and companies like yourselves at Stolen Goat – and anyone else who wants to help us on that journey – it’s going to be easier to share our vision and hopefully it’ll be something that more people want to be a part of.
“I’m very privileged to be in this role… meeting the participants is definitely always a highlight.”
I’m very privileged to be in this role. I’m quite hands on and I like getting out to see what happens on the ground. One day I might be helping to deliver events, the following day I could be talking to potential funders or commissioners. No two days are the same – that’s just the nature of the work that we do. You’ve got to roll your sleeves up and get stuck in. We’re a small but proactive team and we work really well together. We all share the passion for what we’re trying to do, and we do our best to make that happen. It’s a privilege to work with such great people – people that make such a difference. And of course, meeting the participants is definitely always a highlight of the day.
“The pandemic made us realise the value of the service we offer. It’s been really important to get the sessions back up and running.”
The pandemic made us realise the value of the service we offer. Before Covid-19, we were used to big groups coming along and getting involved with the sessions. The pandemic changed all of that – we had to stop for a while, and regroup. Dust ourselves down and find a way to get going again. We had a real duty of care to support the centres and organisations to get the sessions running again safely. For people with disabilities and those who have been marginalised, the pandemic has increased that sense of disconnection. It’s had a big impact on their motivation levels, their mood. Not having access to the cycle sessions might seem like a small thing, but in some cases it’s really had quite an impact on people’s health and wellbeing. So it’s been really important to get the sessions back up and running, and to help renew people’s belief that they can be active and part of the community.
As a charity, we’ve had to do a lot of work around the new standards of operating through the pandemic. Cleaning the cycles, maintaining social distancing while also running the sessions and operating a system that worked well.
But in many ways, the pandemic has encouraged family members and carers to step up and help out even more. We found that people did more – going on cycle journeys when they couldn’t access the sessions. Doing more stuff as a family. That’s borne some of our other initiatives such as the Bike Buddy Programme. It’s helped lots of people to find that resilience to be active in the community – to trust and believe that they can do it.
“There’s the physical benefits for people of all abilities to cycle… but also the benefit of being active and with other people is just immense. To come along, feel the wind, feel the rain and just be outside. It’s really important.”
There’s lots of benefits to the Wheels for All sessions. Obviously there’s the physical benefits for people of all abilities to cycle. But also the benefit of being active, outside and with other people is just immense. To come along, feel the wind, feel the rain and just be outside. It’s really important. When someone has made that decision in the morning to go cycling, we’ve got a duty of care to make sure we’re there and operating for their needs.
“It’s something that has brought many families together.”
The sessions also inspire other family members to get involved and get active. It’s been something that has brought many families together – sometimes several generations. Because if someone they support can get active using an adapted cycle, why can’t they? We’ve found, especially through the pandemic, that cycling has been an activity that can bring people together. Particularly if you’re a parent and you’ve got a disabled child and an able-bodied child, it’s very difficult to find activities that you can all do together. But cycling, through the Wheels for All Centres and the work of the Cycling Projects charity to make it accessible, is an activity that can be delivered well for the whole family.
“It’s important to the volunteers too… it’s an important part of their day.”
In some cases, our volunteers get involved because they have a connection with the participants. They might be a carer or a mentor, or family members who really appreciate what we’re doing as an organisation. But often, it’s people who just want to get involved and have something to keep themselves busy. It’s made us realise that as well as being important for the participants, it’s important to the volunteers too. It’s an important part of their day and they value the service. The sessions have an impact on what they do, both physically and mentally. So they get involved for those reasons too.
It’s great to see this momentum of people of all abilities wanting to volunteer and just make a difference. Everyone comes along and gets involved for different reasons, yet when they combine they make a real force for good in the community through the Wheels for All programme.
“Raising awareness is a challenge… As a small charity trying to grow and have more impact, we don’t have the capacity to promote what we do – we just deliver it.”
Raising awareness is a challenge that we face. People don’t necessarily know about inclusive cycling, and they don’t know that there are opportunities out there for people of all abilities to cycle. People aren’t aware that with the right support, equipment and guidance from our volunteers and staff – they can cycle and can be involved on a regular basis. So it’s important to raise that profile and make sure that people know that this provision is out here, often right on their doorstep. As a small charity trying to grow and have more impact, we perhaps inadvertently do things “by stealth”. We don’t have the capacity to promote what we do – we just deliver it. We want to raise our profile, so that more people are aware that there are ways for people of all abilities to cycle and get involved.
Another challenge is that the actual cycles themselves can be expensive, and they’re big and awkward to store. You need some training around how to use them properly. For us, it’s about identifying these barriers and working out how we can overcome them. We believe that the Wheels for All centres are a great way to overcome a lot of these barriers in one go. They’re a hub where people can come along and try the cycles out. Meet other people, and get some support. We can help them by finding out what cycling they’d like to do, and help people to get to a position where they can cycle independently. But there are many steps in between that we have to work through.
It’s key to have settings such as parks, cycle circuits and off-road facilities in place. And then we also need the buy-in from the local authorities, from disability support groups and of the participants themselves. Once you get all that together, and then follow it up with something like an awareness day, it helps to get that momentum going. It gets people talking and saying they want to get involved. A Wheels for All centre comes together when we can keep the momentum going, and establish partnerships to bring further strengths to the table.
“We want to create a good quality, inclusive cycling movement across the country. It’s all about giving people choice – ensuring they can access opportunities on their terms.”
Our vision for the future is that we want to establish a good quality, inclusive cycling provision in every local authority. Whether that’s through Wheels for All centres, other initiatives or working with other partners. We want to give people choice. People shouldn’t have to travel miles and miles to have access to adapted cycles. They should be able to do so in their own local community. In some areas that’s now well-served, but in other county councils and cities the infrastructure just isn’t yet in place.
We need to ensure that people can have the opportunity to cycle on their terms. Not at an inconvenient hour late in the day at a location a long way away. It’s got to become a core part of the community – something that’s welcomed. The local community needs to see their Wheels for All centre as an asset, as something to be proud of.
We also believe that in existing centres, there should be the opportunity for participants to progress, to go further and start to cycle independently if they’d like to. If people want to, we want them to be able to have their own adapted cycle and join a cycling club or do a road ride. Achieving this means awareness needs to be raised, connectivity needs to be established and barriers need to be overcome. Getting people their own cycles, ensuring people keep coming back.
“Infrastructure for active travel needs to be built around the needs of the individual. It shouldn’t just be planned by departments who don’t engage with the target audience.”
Active travel is something we can assist with through the Wheels for All network. We have an important role to play in raising the profile of inclusive cycling provision. It took the pandemic to nudge active travel further along. Pop up infrastructure was put in place, but it wasn’t quite right for people who were stuck at home or in day centres and wanted to be able to get out and cycle. The infrastructure has to be built around the needs of the individual, it shouldn’t just be planned by departments who don’t engage with the target audience. It’s got to be right, and the investment needs to be more than just a financial investment. It’s about taking the time to work with groups and individuals to understand what they need. If someone with a disability, or someone who is inactive, has a bad first experience it’s unlikely that they’ll give it another go. It’s got to be a good experience from the very beginning.
That’s what’s great about the Wheels for All centres. People can feel reassured that they can come along, try out a range of bikes and meet like-minded people and feel comfortable in that setting. It only takes one bad experience to put people off coming back again.
We want to create a high quality, inclusive cycling movement right across the country. In 5 years’ time it would be great to be able to say that every local authority has embraced our initiative and either has a Wheels for All centre, is in discussions to create a new centre or was expanding the offering at an existing centre.
How The Herd can get involved…
One of the things we want to do in 2022 is push forward with our campaign: “We Ride Together.” Essentially, it’s using the energy, the passion and the know-how of people that already cycle or are already advocates of active travel. I would imagine that would include members of The Herd and lots of other cycling club members – anyone that knows the benefits of being active.
It might just be coming along to their local Wheels for All centre to see how it works and how they might be able to help. Or perhaps they might know of someone who might like to take part, that they could pass the information on to. People might have some time spare to volunteer and give back. Our network is growing, so in most locations there’ll be opportunities.
If anyone in The Herd is keen to get involved with volunteering, the first step would be to get in touch. Having people onboard with a knowledge of cycling who can perhaps help with things like bike maintenance, planning routes, riding with others would be really valuable. As would just helping to spread the word and let more people know about what we do. That would mean an awful lot to the charity. We’d be so grateful for any help from the Stolen Goat community.
A huge thank you to Ian for taking the time to speak to us about Cycling Projects and Wheels for All. We all know how beneficial – how freeing – cycling is, and we’re really looking forward to doing what we can to help Ian and his team to drive the Cycling Projects inclusive cycling initiatives forward. Cycling is for everyone, and everyone should have the opportunity to take part.