The AGM 2006 Celebrity Panel

At LCC’s AGM on 22 November 2006, an all-female celebrity panel was invited to speak on what one thing they would do if they were the mayor of London that would increase the number of women cycling.

The panel was made up of Emily Thornberry MP, London Assembly Member Jenny Jones, London Cyclist editor Lynette Eyb, and Sally Haywill of STA Bikes.

The celebrities were asked to speak for four minutes each. The panel was charismatically chaired by Dawn Austwick, director of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, who used a ‘traffic light’ system to let the celebrities know when they’d talked for too long.

The proposals

Sally Haywill, who runs STA Bikes, said she would carry on exactly as she is now, channelling money and support to the grassroots community projects aimed at the disadvantaged – which would include women. STA Bikes works with schools and local people in Hackney, training children to cycle and local people to be cycle trainers.

She also asked the audience to ask each other two questions: who or what first got you into cycling, and why do you cycle now?

Some answers from the audience included, ‘My dad, and because I lost two stone’

‘My mum, and because there’s no other sensible way to get around in London.’

Sally pointed out that while family had played a big part in getting a lot of LCC members cycling, a lot of the people that she works with at STA Bikes don’t have that – they need bikes and guidance to get started.

Emily Thornberry said that if she was mayor for a day, she would encourage people to wear ordinary clothes. She mentioned that when she recently went to Holland, everyone wore ordinary clothes to cycle in, no-one was wearing Lycra. ‘It was just part of life… what is the big deal? Why do we need all the kit?’

Emily showed pictures of ‘cycling corsets’ from the 1890s, and pointed out that cycling clothing actually used to help women, as those cycling corsets are much better than your ordinary corset.

‘You just have to be an ordinary person cycling and to have other ordinary people cycling too. We want it to be an ordinary activity and we want it to be inclusive.’

Lynette Eyb, standing in for Guardian columnist Zoe Williams, spoke about Zoe’s idea of an 0800 helpline. The single most important thing she would do to encourage cycling if she was mayor would be to ‘institute a helpline so that anyone having trouble with belligerent drivers could phone up and dob them in.’ When a driver had a certain number of complaints, they would get points on their licence.

Being very fair, though, she added, ‘You could also call up and report good behaviour. Could drivers be rewarded for being nice to us? Incentive, people, incentive!’.

An audience member pointed out that the scheme might be open to abuse. ‘Of course, this might not be a bad thing. All we need is Jeremy Clarkson’s numberplate…’.

Jenny Jones won the audience’s vote with her ten-point plan for increasing cycling, which included compulsory cycling classes for bus and taxi drivers and their children, for police, all architects, road engineers, politicians, civil servants and others! Her plan also included more police and firefighters on bikes, cycle routes and parking designed at the conception of all new developments, 20mph across London, cycling classes for women and finally £300m a year invested in cycling. Emily Thornberry’s point about cycling in ordinary clothes was received much support.

Following the panel’s proposal, audience suggestions included a network of changing rooms and lockers across London, including showers, hairdryers, mirrors and irons, and a clamp-down on macho bike shops.

The event was a great success, with entertaining proposals from all panel members and a huge range of contributions from a very lively audience, including lots of women.

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