Paulina and Nina, from Namibia, received bikes and training from the Tees Valley Walking and Cycling Hubs, making a positive impact on their lives and their sense of independence. In this blog, Joanna Lister, Project Delivery Officer for Stockton Walking and Cycling Hub, explains how important this project is for communities.
Learning how to cycle has benefitted Nina (right) and Paulina's mental and physical wellbeing. Credit: Joanna Lister
Nina and Paulina, who recently arrived in the UK as refugees, have been using the services of a local active travel hub to help them adjust to the move, as well as to meet new people and learn new skills.
The pair shared their experience of their learn-to-ride sessions and told us how they have benefitted.
For many years, the Stockton Walking and Cycling Hub has supported local refugee and asylum seeker groups.
From fixing and recycling donated bikes, to working with people who have been referred from medical settings.
More recently, the Hub has established regular learn-to-ride sessions with a women’s group run by a local housing and social care provider.
Paulina, 29, came to the UK from Namibia in April 2023. She said that adapting was a challenge when she first moved, but she has been a regular participant on the Hub’s learn-to-ride sessions at her accommodation.
We asked how the Hub has helped her.
She said: “It has been a really good help. Learning, building up my confidence, being around people.
"When I am comfortable, I can imagine going to pick up groceries with a bike.”
Nina, aged 30, is also a regular participant.
She came to the UK from Uganda in July 2023 and explained how it was a huge challenge when she first arrived.
Nina hadn’t ridden a bike since she was seven years old, but is now a confident cyclist.
She told us that being taught to ride by the Hub has helped with her mental and physical wellbeing.
She explained: “Cycling for me, I have loved it because it does not only engage you mentally but also physically.
“Mentally, the weekend has been very upsetting.
"When I was told about the session coming up, I was like 'yes', this is something that I would love to do.”
In addition to the group sessions, the Hub offers one-on-one cycle confidence training in the heart of Stockton.
One participant Lana, aged 37, is a refugee from Kurdistan, Iraq and she shared some thoughts about how the sessions had impacted her.
She said: “I always thought I never can ride a bike because I thought it’s just for men.
“When I get bad feelings, I just close my eyes and think of how I felt I couldn’t but now I can.
"They (the Hub) really help me feel like I really can.
"One of the things I always think is I can’t because I am woman and my age, but I did it.
"It was so helpful, you believing in me.”
Nina (left) and Paulina have been using the services of a local active travel hub to help them adjust to the move, as well as to meet new people and learn new skills. Credit: Joanna Lister
For some, the Hub’s presence has been a welcome distraction from a difficult time.
Nina said: “I think everyone here has a story and it is not the best of stories, so everyone comes here with a lot.
"But engaging with things that are going to get you off whatever is eating up your mind, it’s something we look forward to."
Nina, Paulina, and Lana can now ride confidently and want to take these skills into the future.
Following on from these initial sessions of learning to ride, the Hub will continue to support these women.
They will be taught basic cycle maintenance and join guided rides to show them useful routes around Stockton-on-Tees.
It is hoped these sessions will continue to help their confidence grow, and encourage independence so they can take these skills further.
Having been the Project Delivery Officer for Stockton Hub for a year now, I have seen first-hand how the project positively impacts the local community.
We deliver active travel assemblies in primary schools, teach cycle maintenance to groups of Brownies, plot personalised routes, provide bike health checks, and teach people to ride bikes.
Every encounter has made an impact, big or small, and feedback like this shows just how important projects like these are in communities.
They increase confidence, knowledge, and engagement with active travel.