Simply Cycling – Making Cycling Accessible

After weeks of dull, grey, overcast, cold, wet and wintry mornings that reaffirm the belief I’m designed to hibernate, I woke up today to a wholly different world. Bright and sunny with a clear blue sky. Just the weather for a bike ride so I’m here at Boggart Hole Clough in my shorts.

IN MY SHORTS! Are you bonkers? It’s February and freeeeezing. I’m really here to meet Sue Blaylock from Simply Cycling. She’s ready with a big smile and a hot cup of tea. Before long we’re stood in the sunshine and can just feel a little of its warmth. It’s very civilised.


There’s a running track in front of us with grass verges and picnic tables. We are surrounded by a selection of bicycles, trikes, wheelchair accessible bikes and tandems. Most have foot pedals, others are hand operated, several have side by side seats and some have covers.

I didn’t know such a variety of cycles existed. Sue explains they cater for all abilities and aim to have something to suit everyone. “It’s £2 a session” she says, “so it’s affordable too”.


Although it’s cold she’s already had some customers. Another couple arrive soon after I do. They are regulars and once the social niceties are done Sue helps them find the right bikes and they’re off around the track.

“It’s been quiet so far this morning” Sue says “but we’ve had over 300 customers in one day before now. When it’s very busy we limit the time to 2 hours so that everyone gets a chance. At other times you can stay and ride for as long as the session lasts.”

More people arrive, including Sean and his carer. They know Sue well and she gets a big hug from Sean before finding him his favourite cycle. It’s hand propelled and the two sit side by side as they set off on the track.


I ask Sue how long Simply Cycling has been operating for. “We started in Wythenshawe Park about 14 years ago.

The main focus was to make cycling accessible to everyone especially people with disabilities but we are entirely inclusive. We welcome any age and any ability.

It means the whole family can join in and anyone else who wants to cycle in a safe environment.”


Laura, who arrived earlier, waves to us both as she glides past.

We discuss the fee. £2 isn’t much and it goes towards the using the track facilities at the park, purchasing cycles and other running costs. Sue, along with others run the sessions and maintain the cycles so that they’re in tip-top condition. There are some paid staff, some sessional workers and some volunteers who all work hard together to ‘make things work’. New volunteers are always welcome.


Simply Cycling are at Boggart Hole Clough on Wednesdays 9am till 3pm and Saturdays 10am till midday and throughout the week at both Wythenshawe Park and Longford Park in Stretford. There are toilet facilities close by and refreshments available. Find out more about what they do by visiting their website at http://www.simply-cycling.org/

As I leave I thank Sue for her time and for just being there on such a cold day.

“Oh we don’t cancel unless we have to. Sometimes the track’s needed for an athletics event. Apart from that, come rain or shine, we’ll be here. We don’t let people down.”

“Let’s get together and feel alright”

“Sopranos, on the count of three. One, two, three….Every little thing is going to be alright….

Altos get ready…and three…Every little thing is going…

Tenors, two, three…Every little thing….”

Tosin, the choir’s Director, clicks the rhythm with her fingers and they all follow her lead. When she’s happy it’s time to stand up and give it their best.

“One love, one heart, let’s get together and feel alright”

“Louder, sopranos, and…” The air vibrates with the volume. I feel privileged to be there.

It’s Monday evening and I’m at a workshop for Amani Creatives Community Choir.  They line the edges of the practise room. They’d started with breathing exercises and musical scales followed by an African song. It sounded rich and rhythmical.

Three musicians support them. I cannot play an instrument or read music so, to me, what they do is nothing short of magic. Tosin communicates with them using just a few notes or hand signals and they make slight adjustments to the rhythm or pitch that to her make all the difference.

At the break I get chance to speak to the choir’s Creative Producer Emmanuela Yogolelo to find out more.

“We’ve been together since May” she tells me. “The idea came about following last year’s winter festival. We felt the community should be actively involved so we handed out fliers and talked to people to see if they were interested in singing or even listening to music.

A choir is a great way to get people out and socialising and we want it to reflect the diversity in our community regardless of age, gender, nationality or ethnicity so that everyone is represented”.

I comment on the songs I’d heard them practise so far as they’re all different.

“We sing in different languages and a range of songs including African, reggae, jazz and popular songs like Oasis. It’s a varied just like our membership. We want to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.

The musicians are professional African so there is no denying the African influence in some of the arrangements. It’s important for the development of the choir to get used to working alongside them”.

There was hardly a spare seat in the practise room so I ask what will happen if they expand.

“We’d have to use the main hall upstairs although it would cost more.

We’ve been lucky enough to receive funding from Forever Manchester. Securing funds to meet our costs is a big challenge. If successful, we aim to develop the choir to the next stage, improve performance quality, hopefully perform locally at events and build up a good reputation.”

The practise session is about to restart so we re-join the rest of the choir. I stay a while and listen to ‘Mary Did You Know’. It sounds lovely and so infectious that I join in – just can’t stop myself!

If you want to hear them too, join them at their Christmas Concert on Saturday 23 December at 4pm in the Simpson Memorial Hall, 361 Moston Lane, Moston. It’s free and everyone is welcome.

 

 

“It’s run by the community for the community and they really value it”

A few weeks ago this noticeboard caught my eye at the Wellbeing Centre on Church Lane, Moston…

I’ve come back to meet Joan Tipping and find out more.

She waves to me from the cafe, a phone in one hand, trying to eat her lunch with the other. It’s clear that running the Wellbeing Centre keeps her busy.

“Oh I don’t run it.” she says. “The community run it. They value it so much. I just support them. I’m here if they need me but I’ve been here since the beginning.”

“So how did it all start?” I ask.

“The national health campaigns of the late 90’s weren’t really effective at a local level so we held open meetings and invited local people to tell us their concerns about their health. We then tried to find practical solutions to those concerns.

The first big issue to come up was just having a safe place to walk. They put the word out and started Strollers in Boggart Hole Clough. At the first one I got chatting with the lady beside me. It was the first time she’d ventured out of the house in 8 years. It really lifted her spirits and I could see the benefits went beyond just a bit of physical exercise. The walks continue today led now by the park wardens.”

Joan explains that after the success of Strollers the next burning issue was about people coming out of hospital after a heart attack. They’d been told to exercise more.

“It’s not so easy on your own at home. You need other people to motivate you and somewhere to do the exercises. That’s where this place came in. It was called the Day Centre then. They had a small gym so we asked if they would let us use it. The sessions were called Heartbeat.”

Gradually, more rooms became available as the previous occupants moved out. The group moved on to tackle stress and depression. They put on other sessions, brought people together to have a chat and try their hand a range of crafts. They even created their own sign in mosaic and adopted the name North Manchester Wellbeing Centre.“We found that bringing people together to do activities really benefits them. They learn new skills, make new friends, share stories, advise and help each other. It can even reduce dependence on medication. It’s a miracle and we facilitate it happening.”

We go on a quick tour of the building. Through the craft room, where the Knit and Natter and craft sessions are held, into the gym area with its exercise equipment, then back along the corridor overlooking a courtyard.

I comment on how much natural light there is and how, with a bit of work, the courtyard would be a great outdoor area in the summer. She has a better idea…

“…a conservatory would be nice, and then we could use it all year round. The gardens outside would be another project.” She adds.

We finish the tour in the cafe. There’s a pool game going on at the far end, they organise regular tournaments.

The players give Joan a friendly wave and, as I take my leave and thank Joan for her time, a lady comes across to show off a cake she’s just made at a ‘cook and taste’ session. What a wonderful place this is.

 

 

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