Tips on how to set up a successful community cycle training project for women

Convinced that cycling would bring many benefits and much pleasure to her neighbours, Sarah Hammond applied for a CCFL grant in spring 2011 to run, Fieldgate Bikes, a three months bike project on her housing estate in East London. Sarah also runs Artspokes, an enterprise that partly grew from Fieldgate Bikes. This is Sarah's account of how to encourage Asian women to cycle.

Our application included cycle maintenance for young people, cycle training for women, bike promotion graphics and celebratory events. We even managed to stretch our funding to cover customised bike lockers thanks to additional contributions from our borough, Tower Hamlets, and housing trust, the Southern Housing Group.

The first thing I learnt was that running a project like this needed dedication and organisation! Our community is 90% Bangladeshi.  At the start of the project there were no Asian women cyclists in our area.  One of my main aims was to encourage my women neighbours to cycle. They have busy family lives with children and other responsibilities and often have to overcome family and cultural prejudice. They need lots and lots of encouragement to have a go. Here are some ideas I gleaned from running the project which I hope will be helpful to you:

1. A partner or core group: Have an enthusiastic partner or core group of 2 or 3 organizers for support and encouragement and to share successes and setbacks.  Get in touch with your local cycling organizations and borough Transport Officers. Don’t be shy to ask for help. 

2. Work out your running costs and time: you may be able to get funding from the CCFL (Community Cycling Fund for London) or your local borough (the Sustainable Transport Officer, Travel Officers) to cover your running costs. Our costs included publicity, communications, training, bike hire and a celebration of the project's successes at the end. Be realistic about your costs and time. If possible, recruit volunteers to help.

3.Bikes: You don’t necessarily need to have your own bikes. You might be able to borrow or hire them from a nearby cycle group or cycle shop. Barclays Bikes are a brilliant option for cycling in London but they tend to be heavy for beginners and too large for some women to ride comfortably.  We took two Barclays Bikes on every training session so that the women could try them out and get used to them. Chain guards are important.  Buying your own bikes might be more expensive and they need secure storage but it could also make your project more sustainable in the long run, so it’s worth considering. We hired 6 bikes for each session from the Jagonari Centre.

4.Training: Most boroughs offer free cycle training for people living or working in the borough. In Tower Hamlets this training is done through Bikeworks. Use these free training schemes for your first sessions. Save your funding for additional sessions. We had our training sessions on a Saturday morning. Each session was divided into three one-hour slots so 18 women in total had the chance to cycle during the morning. It sounds complicated but it worked well. We only used women trainers - three per session. Reputable training providers like Bikeworks, Cycle Training UK will also be able to cover the insurance, something that it's important to have covered. 

5.Encouraging women to take part: BEM (Black and Ethnic Minority) women cyclists are pioneers. Don’t be disappointed if you start off with small numbers or lots of women sign up but only a few turn up on the day. Numbers will level off and then increase. People will be curious and come up to your group in the park. Always have a card or flyer to hand. You will sow the seeds for future cyclists. Be prepared to spend a lot of time on the phone reminding, encouraging and persuading women to come. It is worthwhile. On the whole, people appreciate a phone call.  Remember to remind women to check with their GP before starting on training sessions.

6.Where to advertise? Choose places where women are more likely to be open to cycling and fitness. Put flyers up in the local doctors surgery and health & community centres.  Talk to women at school sports days and fitness classes.  Emphasize the health benefits of cycling. Encourage women to bring a friend or a relative. 

7.The venue: Women may be shy to be seen learning to cycle in a public space close to home for cultural, social or religious reasons.  If possible, choose a secluded area. A school playground is a possibility if you can arrange access after school or at the weekend. Public parks are an excellent alternative. Saturday morning, 10am-1pm, is a good time as fewer people are around. It’s also useful to be able to have the choice to cycle on pathways or grass. Some people feel much more confidant learning on grass. Parks are also wide-open spaces so forgetting to use brakes or to turn isn’t such a problem. We chose Weaver’s Fields, Whitechapel, a 10 minutes walk away.

8.What to wear? Most clothing can be adapted for cycling. For safety, to avoid catching material in the chain or rear wheel, long dresses can be hitched up slightly. The salwar kameez, light narrow cotton trousers and a long top (worn by younger Asian women) is ideal for cycling.  The jilbab (long outer garment) or burkha (which includes a floor length dress in black) need to be arranged with care.  Remember to have a chain guard.  Rubber bands are also useful to have to hand. Ideally, shoes should cover the foot. Trainers are excellent. Think of all the Victorian and Edwardian women who were enthusiastic cyclists, often having to negotiate a crossbar. 

9.Celebration: Mark the end of the project with a celebration. We held our event in partnership with the Jagonari Centre and invited our MP, Rushanara Ali, to present the Bikeability certificates that we handed out to the participants. Rushanara’s involvement as a high profile Asian woman was especially significant in encouraging local women to cycle and help change attitudes towards women and cycling. Read what Rushanara said here. The event was supported by Tower Hamlets Transport officers and volunteers from the Wheelers.

The successes
Over a hundred people actively took part in Fieldgate Bikes.  Another three hundred were involved through our estate Eid Celebration & bike promotion event. This is what Rowshanara, one of the participants, said: “I always wanted to learn how to ride a bike but didn’t think I’d have a chance to.  Now I’m glad I’ve done cycling. I never thought I’d be able to cycle. I’m surprised I got the hang of cycling and I feel confident now and know next time I’ll be able to do it”.

 

Over thirty young people took part in bike training at the Urban Adventure Base, Mile End Park.  The first group was ‘all girls’ to help overcome the inhibitions many Asian teenage girls have about cycling in public. Some of the girls had never ridden a bike before but in the freedom of Mile End Park, they gained confidence. Tahmina, age 14, said “I think cycling is very fun and enjoyable.  Everyone loved it. Also everyone learnt how to cycle. People who knew how to cycle learnt how to do new tricks. For me cycling was quite challenging but most of all it was great fun.”

We also put on informal drop in sessions in the courtyard run by Cycle Training UK who provided hands on experience of mending a puncture and simple repairs. These events were very popular and attracted people of all ages.

Two young people were awarded prizes for their outstanding aptitude and did a one-day Intermediate Cycle Maintenance course at Bikeworks. They can now help other young people locally with their bikes. Tahmid, one of them, has plans to start his own bike enterprise doing up old bikes.

Children and young people also took part in bike graphic workshops to promote cycling.  We invited Saatchi & Saatchi and the London Metropolitan University to get involved and they generously gave time & knowledge.  The young people designed pin badges, flyers, posters and banners for our Eid Celebration. I’d really encourage you to involve other organisations

GOOD LUCK WTIH YOUR PROJECT!  Everyone enjoyed our project.  Alongside learning new skills, friendships were made.

For all information on how to apply for a CCFL grant, including more examples of insipiring projects clik here.

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