Sustrans has been running a popular Women’s Club in Barking & Dagenham, east London, over the last six months, with the aim of encouraging more women into cycling. The club’s informal and inclusive atmosphere attracts a broad range of women, many of whom have never cycled before.
The club has engaged with 26 women since spring 2016, all of whom now have their own bike. The scheme also works with many of the participant’s children in the local schools, in order to encourage families to enjoy cycling together.
There are significant mental and physical health benefits to cycling. Surinder, one of the participants, explains in her own words what the cycling club and learning to ride means to her.
I had been feeling really depressed and lonely for many years. My health isn't great as I have cancer, and end up spending most of my time at home recovering, without many friends.
When I heard about the Cycling Club from my sister-in-law, I felt it would be a good opportunity to get some fresh air and have some social interaction. My confidence was at an all-time low, but I wanted to be brave, I wanted to get out there and be somehow visible in the world.
Getting on the bike was exciting and scary
When I came for the first time I was so nervous, but the moment I arrived, Simon the instructor greeted me with his lovely smile. As the other participants arrived full of warmth, I began to feel more at ease.
Getting on the bike was exciting and scary, and after quite a lot of wobbles, I learnt to balance. It was an amazing feeling and when I felt able to ride, it felt like I was flying! It has really improved my confidence levels, and it’s so good meeting new friends. Everyone is really supportive, friendly and encouraging, and the feeling of togetherness and collective achievement fosters such a sense of community which has been priceless.
When I felt able to ride, it felt like I was flying
For me, the Cycling Club has been much more than learning to ride a bike. It has given me a weekly focus, something to look forward to. It has been nurturing and healing and I've enjoyed the feeling of belonging.
I am now practising riding on the roads, and for some bizarre reason, signalling with my arms makes me laugh out loud. I have more confidence and feel less alone, especially on cycling days. I have also thankfully been able to buy a bike at very low cost from the Cycling Club.
I have more confidence and feel less alone
Such amazing value all round. So now, every time I signal, the sound of my laughter to my own ears feels like a miracle and I am full of gratitude for Simon who truly rejoices with each success; the women who cheer, uplift and inspire; and the organisers who make all this possible.
This scheme is fantastic and I can’t praise it enough. Thank you each and everyone involved for making a difference in my life.
My secret aim is to ride standing up! Watch this space!