As Health and Wellbeing Social Improvement officer for the Public Health Agency (PHA), Fiona McCann felt she should be seen to be practising what she preaches. So when Workplaces Active Travel Officer, Kieran Coyle, suggested she join a Women into Cycling session, Fiona couldn’t say no. Read her story on how cycling to work leaves her feeling fresh and ready for the day.
Fiona McCann works for the Public Health Agency which funds the Leading the Way programme for workplaces in Northern Ireland. Photo: Sustrans
In Kieran’s role in the North West, he encourages staff from different organisations to sign up for the Leading The Way active travel programme funded by the Public Health Agency.
The programme delivers different schemes all aimed at enabling more people to walk, wheel and cycle more.
Having picked up tips and skills from a 'Women into Cycling' session as part of this programme, Fiona decided to put them to good use by borrowing an e-bike and taking part in the Active Travel Challenge.
Active Travel Challenge
The challenge takes place in June each year when Sustrans partners with many of the Leading The Way organisations including:
- Public Health Agency
- Department for Infrastructure
- Belfast Health and Social Care Trust
- Belfast City Council
- and Translink.
The challenge is all about inspiring people to break their usual transport habits and try active travel or public transport instead.
Workplaces, as well as individuals, are encouraged to register and log their journeys which show the calories, carbon emissions and costs saved.
Seeing these figures in real time proves how ditching the car can help your health, your finances and the environment.
For Fiona, the greatest benefit of taking the bike to work has been the opportunity it allows her to clear her head.
Cycling as a way to decompress
"I cycle four miles each way.
"I live in a rural area and I would not have the confidence to cycle on the roads there so I drive to the edge of Derry City and park beside one of the greenways.
"From there, I can do the rest of my journey on traffic-free paths.
"I really like the e-bike.
"In the mornings, when I have to be in the office for 8 am, I put my head down and cycle on.
"The paths are generally very quiet and I arrive at work feeling fresh and ready for the day, instead of coming in in a bad mood from sitting in traffic in the car.
"I take longer in the evenings, it’s a time to decompress.
"It’s a lovely journey, along the river, it’s so nice to cycle and it gives me headspace before going home and thinking about making the dinner.
"My work is office-based so cycling to work gives me exercise and I love being outdoors.
"On days when I work from home, I still take the bike out for leisure."
Access to high quality cycling infrastructure is vital to Fiona enjoying her time on the bike.
"I don’t know if I’ll ever have the confidence to cycle on the road but it’s great that I can do so much of my journey on greenways.
"Up until a couple of years ago, my workplace wasn’t convenient for active travel but now there are the greenways.
"These have made cycling doable - I can do it without feeling I’m endangering myself.”
Improved facilities at work may encourage others
Fiona would also like to see improved facilities at her place of work which may encourage others to consider alternatives to car commutes.
"There are no bike stands at work.
"A site was identified on a proposed new car park but budget cuts meant it was put on the long finger.
"We are looking at a shower facility within the office block.
"With more hybrid working, there is space now.
"It would be somewhere to dry off on a wet day too.”
Fiona (pictured far left) took part in a Women into Cycling session before borrowing an e-bike and signing up for the Active Travel Challenge. Photo: Sustrans
A little rain never stops Fiona
The wet climate in Northern Ireland can put people off active travel, Fiona included, but she has overcome her initial reservations.
"The thought of going out on the bike at times is, ‘Will I or won’t I? Does it look like rain?’
"You can make up all the excuses of the day but once you go out, it’s fine.
"I’ve bought a good pair of waterproof trousers.
"The Active Travel Challenge has ended but I’m keeping up the cycling to get the exercise and also to clear my head.
"That’s my main reason for enjoying it.
"Even if it is raining, if you have the proper gear on, it’s no problem and it gives you that free space.
"It’s been such an eye-opener."
Fiona is now considering buying her own bike and she is researching options of folding e-bikes so she can continue on her cycling journey.
Feeling inspired by Fiona and want to start cycling? Read our beginners' guide to cycling for all the best tips and information.
Thinking about buying an e-bike? Read our blog for everything you need to know.