Published: 26th SEPTEMBER 2019

How we got over 20,000 people walking and cycling

We worked with Stockton Council’s health and transport teams to get over 20,000 people walking and cycling.

Our Hub in Stockton-on-Tees is the UK’s first active travel and cycle parking centre, part-funded by Stockton Borough Council.

It has a free one-day cycling parking facility and offers free information and advice on all aspects of cycling and walking, with regular guided rides and walks.

The Hub offers training courses on cycle maintenance and road cycling and receives hundreds of donated bikes which are reconditioned by volunteers and sold at a reasonable price to the local community.

Find out more about events at the Hub

The Challenge

The former shipbuilding town of Stockton-On-Tees in the North East has many of the health challenges associated with places of industrial decline and high levels of unemployment.

The area suffers from more deprivation than the England average, and lower life expectancy.

Heart disease, cancer and respiratory illness cause many early deaths, according to the Stockton Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy. There is also a number of unhealthy lifestyles linked to physical inactivity, which leads to preventable disease.

There are stark and growing health contrasts in different areas of the town, and like most urban areas, there are traffic congestion issues too.    

What we did

The Stockton Active Travel Project began in 2009, in partnership with Stockton Borough Council. It aims to use cycling and walking as a way to help tackle problems linked to lack of physical activity in the community.

The Hub delivers a range of activities, advice and resources to help people get more active and confident on bikes or walking in the community.

“We’ve always recognised the benefits of active travel and had a proactive approach,” says Richard McGuckin, Head of Economic Growth and Development at Stockton Council.

"The Sustrans Hub has really added to what we do and given us an opportunity to access core funding together. The health benefits are proven.”

Our team worked with the Council to establish baseline measurements for the project. They registered consenting participants via an online database and monitored people who took part in a variety of activities including bike rides and community walks.

A follow-up survey evaluated participants’ levels of activity, health and wellbeing compared to the previous year.

In one project officers worked with 200 GP referred patients with Diabetes Type 2 or high Body Mass Index to increase physical activity levels over a six week period.

Steve and Debra cycling together in Stockton town centre

How the Stockton Hub made us healthier and happier.

We caught up with Steve and Debra, who regularly use the Stockton Hub, to see how the Hub (and cycling) had transformed their lives.

Take a look at their stories

They provided a menu of activities and support designed to suit to participant’s physical activity capabilities, interests and needs.

The Council was keen to create a long-term legacy of active travel within the community, so we established a thriving volunteer programme at The Hub.

Officers worked to train volunteers in the area to lead walks and rides, and particularly targeted activities to reach people in the areas of highest deprivation, and those with suffering from health problems or social isolation.

This has provided opportunities for those not in employment, education or training, as well as a chance for social interaction.

Separate groups and activities help different people to The Hub.

For example, when Stockton Council asked us to target people over the age of 50 who had health problems related to lack of exercise, we set up the Silver Cyclists. This popular club which meets at The Hub provides free cycling courses and weekly bike rides for the over 50s.

Volunteers at the Hub also refurbish donated bikes which are available for people in need or sold for a reasonable price.

The Hub receives regular referrals from a medical practice which works with asylum seekers.

Around 300 bikes have been donated to refugees in the area who benefit from the physical activity and independence that the bicycles bring.

Removing transport barriers for asylum seekers in Stockton

Working in partnership with the Arrivals Practice in Norton, the Stockton Hub has given out around 300 reconditioned bikes to refugees and asylum seekers in the community.

Find out more about the project

The results

The Hub’s results have been striking. Since 2010, the Active Travel Project has inspired over 20,000 people to get more active through everyday walking and cycling.

Over 400 bike rides and 500 community walks each year have attracted people outside, improving their health, fitness and wellbeing levels. The ‘Silver Cyclists’ now meet every week and the group has over 100 members.

The Hub’s central location and community links meant officers were able to successfully attract the target audience: Of the 579 adults who responded to our survey, 51% came from the top 20% most deprived areas.

Around 22% suffered from high blood pressure, 9% with diabetes and 52% with asthma.

People reported physical health benefits including becoming more active, feeling fitter and losing weight. They also said the project had helped improve their mood and feel good about themselves as a result of both physical activity and social interaction. 

The regular exercise means one participant with osteoporosis no longer needs medication. We also had anecdotal reports of substantial improvements for people with diabetes.

One participant said: "I have lost a stone and a half in weight and reduced my diabetes count from 65 down to 36.” 

In 2013, we carried out an online follow-up survey with 42 participants who agreed to participate. The results showed that over 85% strongly agreed they were more active and feel fitter, while 78% cycled more as a form of transport.

Some 50% said they walk more and 70% feel healthier and 45% lost weight. Mental wellbeing had improved for 64% of respondents.

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My activity levels have increased greatly as I now have great people to cycle with, so not only is it exercise but great from a social aspect as well. Blockquote quotation marks
Joanne Liddle

Single mum Joanne Liddle lost eight stone in weight and says her health and wellbeing have improved considerably since she changed her transport from the car to a bicycle.

“My activity levels have increased greatly as I now have great people to cycle with, so not only is it exercise but great from a social aspect as well.” 

 “The impact the Hub has had on the number of people cycling is quite profound, particularly on a leisure scale,” says Richard McGuckin.

“We’ve grown our cycle network throughout the region so you see lots of people cycling, particularly for leisure in Stockton and I’m always hearing about individuals who have improved their health as a result of getting involved with the Hub.

“In times of austerity it’s easy for councils to stop funding active travel, but the health benefits are proven and far outweigh any short term savings. I’d love to see active travel on prescription in the near future.”

Key facts 

Over 20,000 people joined in walking and cycling activities

51% of survey respondents came from the top 20% most deprived areas of Stockton

85% strongly agreed they felt healthier and fitter

Find out more about our work

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