The last 14 months have been a real learning curve for everyone – and that certainly includes us at Wheels for Wellbeing! Most importantly, it’s reminded us of the importance of creative thinking and adaptability, to ensure that the needs of our beneficiaries continued to be met. Here’s a snapshot of what we have been up to since the start of the pandemic – none of which would have been possible without our fantastic team of staff and volunteers and the unfailing support of generous funders and donors!
INCLUSIVE CYCLING INNOVATION
When we were forced to halt all of our cycling sessions in mid-March 2020, we quickly improvised a cycle loan scheme so that some of our Disabled participants could remain physically active, cycling from their own front doors during lockdown. Traffic-free residential streets and temporary cycling and walking infrastructure along main roads made this possible, and 10 people took up the offer of rehoming one of our cycles.
This was popular among children and adults alike (e.g. Edie & Lyndsay) and so, in an email to the whole team entitled ‘Madcap idea?’, our Director suggested we apply for funding to expand the idea and serve Disabled Londoners across the whole city. Since then, with the help of funding from Sport England and a partnership with fellow inclusive cycling provider Bikeworks, we have developed and are now in the pilot phase of our newest invention, and the inclusive answer to bicycle hire schemes: Wheels4Me London.
Showing further innovative spirit and refusing to remain idle whilst unable to run sessions, Wheels for Wellbeing looked for more ways to support the Covid-19 response effort during the first lockdown. This led us to join the BIA project, led by the Lewisham Irish Community Centre and in partnership with the Good Hope Café. We took on the role of delivering freshly-prepared, healthy meals to older and isolated residents across Lewisham – by cycle – every single Wednesday (and we are still doing this).
Our fantastic volunteers, coordinated by Session Manager Matt, have really loved taking part in the project; you can read the stories of Anna and Jane here. Plus, the project was announced as one of the Lewisham Mayor’s Award recipients, “for the valuable contribution within the borough’s community response to COVID-19”, which we are incredibly proud of the team for achieving!
CYCLING SESSIONS IN TIMES OF COVID-19
But what about our face-to-face cycling sessions, which, pre-pandemic, would typically welcome upwards of 60 people over two hours and reach 1,000+ Disabled people every year? Not only had our participants suddenly lost the (often only) opportunity to keep their bodies moving and to experience the fun of the wind in their hair but had also been deprived of the social support network that our amazing community of cyclists represents.
So, Session Manager Emma introduced a weekly Zoom Social Chat at the time of her Monday session at the Herne Hill Velodrome, keeping participants and their supporters/carers engaged and connected until sessions could restart.
When the UK Government Covid-19 guidelines allowed us to start planning to restart our sessions last summer, we were over the moon. But it was simpler said than done! Our team got on with carrying out COVID-19 risk assessments, devising a brand-new booking system, buying PPE, and inviting people back to sessions.
First to return were Monday sessions at Herne Hill Velodrome from July 2020 onwards, followed by the opening of a new Friday session at the same venue. With the help of funding from Children in Need, we also started our (pre-pandemic planned) Sunday sessions for Disabled children and their families.
Croydon Sports Arena remained closed until the New Year and we finally restarted our Tuesday, then Saturday sessions at the venue in March/April – we are also planning to re-start activities at Ladywell Day Centre (being an indoor venue, this has proven to trickier to arrange, but we hope to welcome back our Disabled participants and their supporters in the coming months!).
The numbers of participants and length of sessions per cyclist have had to be limited, as well as introducing rigorous cycle cleaning regimes – yet participants have managed to cycle with us over 800 times over this strangest of years!
RE-DOUBLING OUR ACTIVE TRAVEL ADVOCACY WORK
Alongside WfW’s cycling activities, our Director and new Campaigns & Policy Officer have worked with active travel organisations, Disability groups, local authorities and government bodies throughout the pandemic, advocating for the implementation of inclusive active travel measures (we issued an open letter to the Transport Secretary in the summer and featured on several podcast interviews).
One of our focus areas has been accessible cycle parking. In our 2019/2020 survey results, participant feedback and general conversations with Disabled cyclists, one particular issue often comes up: the lack of secure cycle storage facilities for adaptive cycles. After all, they tend to be larger and heavier than traditional 2-wheelers – not to mention considerably more expensive. With this in mind, our Director has been encouraging local councils and cycle storage companies to solve this problem through more inclusive procurement on the one hand and new, accessible product development on the other.
Another big achievement during this pandemic year was the fact that we saw the direct results of our influencing work when the UK government’s Gear Change plan and accompanying Cycle Design Guidance were published in July 2020 and were the most inclusive cycling-related documents yet. To reflect these developments, we updated our Guide to Inclusive Cycling, now in its 4th edition!
INCLUSIVE CYCLING INFORMATION
Throughout the year, cycling has become hugely popular among Disabled and non-Disabled people alike. The numbers of calls and emails to us have been steadily mounting, especially after we were featured as part of Woman’s Hour Cycling Special on the May Bank Holiday!
Our Senior Administrator, Aleksandra, has been busy informing people based in and around south London of our inclusive cycling services, and referring them to other organisations if they’re based elsewhere. People have also increasingly reached out to enquire about buying an adaptive cycle or making adaptions to their existing cycle – we have added some answers on our website, and our Session Managers have kindly carried out additional online research for people.
…and that’s about it! It’s been a tremendously busy year, and our team of staff and volunteers have done a really fantastic job (if we may say so ourselves). We would also like to thank our funders, without whom none of this would have been possible!