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.”

“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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“It’s a great honour to have a parent’s trust.”

“Today is particularly important because it’s about safeguarding children,” says Shelley. “Volunteers are being trained in what to do if they see or hear anything that concerns them.”

I’ve come to the Turkey Lane and Monsall Centre in Harpurhey to sit in on a training course led by the family support charity Home-Start.

“Do you mind if I’m a fly on the wall?” I ask once I’ve introduced myself.

“We’re doing a quiz to establish what we already know,” says workshop leader Shelley Roberts pointing out little cards strewn in front of the participants. “Safeguarding is a really grey area and we all bring our own experiences to each situation.”

Home-Start is a national network of independent family support charities. They each recruit and train local volunteers who visit families with young children. All the volunteers have parenting experience and, with the charity’s help, they offer guidance to other parents who might be struggling to cope.

There’s a lively discussion around smacking. Is it ever acceptable? “If a child is having a tantrum then smacking isn’t going to help,” says one woman, “you have to find the reason for the tantrum.”

“There are other techniques to control your child,” says another.

“Smacking is a really contentious issue, isn’t it?” says Shelley. “There are lots of generational and cultural factors around smacking a child.”

During a tea break I ask Shelley how they get to know about families in need. “Mostly through the health visitors,” she says, “because all our families have at least one child under five and are still being seen by a health visitor. But also through GPs, nurseries and other health practitioners.”

I’m introduced to some of the volunteers. Bukky, Afi and Amna have already been working for the charity and are using the training session as a refresher.

“This training is really useful,” says Bukky, “not just for the work you do with other families but it gives you more confidence with your own. It helps you make informed decisions.”

“Before I worked with Home Start I was feeling very low,” says Afi. “But by helping someone else it really boosted my confidence. I’ve now got a job. Yes, it’s improved my life definitely.”

“What have you got out of volunteering?” I ask Amna who says she first did this training course three years ago.

“Honestly, it’s given me a lot of knowledge,” she says, “and it’s a great opportunity to gain experience.” Amna tells me something about one of the families she’s already supported. “The mother would share things with me that she hadn’t shared with anyone else and that’s a great honour to have someone’s trust.”

Before the mugs are put back in the kitchen and the session resumes, I hear from new recruit Sarah whose daughter’s autism diagnosis prompted a career change.

“She’s five now and is getting lots of help at her school but for me, as a parent, I feel as if I’ve been put through the mill,” says Sarah. “The process made me feel isolated with no emotional and practical support. I want to help other people who might be going through the same experience.”

This will be Sarah’s first volunteering role and she’s looking to switch to a caring career, maybe as a support worker. “I’m not sure what field I want to go into but I do feel this is going to be a great starting point.”

“Let’s move on,” says Shelley as she encourages everyone back to the table. “Let’s talk about how you might recognise the signs of neglect and abuse.”

The Home-Start training courses In Harpurhey and Moston have been supported by the Fourteen programme. The next training course starts in January in Moston. Contact Shelley on 0161 721 4493 for details.