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.”

More than just football

“I enjoy it,” says Reece. “It keeps me fit, gets me out of the house and I like meeting up with the others twice a week.”

“What position do you play?” I ask.

“Midfield.”

“So you feed the strikers?” I ask, pretending I know what I’m talking about.

“You’ve got a good engine on you, haven’t you?” says North Manchester Athletics FC coach, Jordan Ryan. “He goes from box to box.”

“And what would you be doing on a Tuesday night if you weren’t football training?” I ask the 23-year-old.

“I’d just be sat at home watching telly, I suppose.”

Most people wouldn’t give this group of lads running around plastic cones on a training pitch behind Manchester Communications Academy a second glance, but tonight I’m finding out there’s much more to it.

In his day job Jordan works for Street League, an organisation that uses sport to re-connect with young people who don’t have a clear employment or education direction.

“We took this group of lads to play in the Manchester International Football Academy,” he says. “It was the first time they’d played as a team and we got beat 8-1. But they wanted to stay together and mithered me to set them up as a regular team.”

That was 18 months ago and at first Jordan wasn’t keen to give up his free time to become their volunteer coach but could see the benefits it brought to these teenagers and young men.

“I ran a similar project in Salford some years ago and that was massively successful at reducing crime rates,” he says. “I’m not saying all these lads would be causing trouble if they weren’t here but it gives them the opportunity to do something different, be part of a team, and a reason to get up on a weekend.”

North Manchester Athletics FC now has a squad of over 25 players aged from 18-23 and has competed in the Manchester Saturday Morning Football League since September.

“How are you getting on?”

“We got beat 8-0 in our first game and 7-0 in our second. We beat Partington 5-2 in our third game but it hasn’t been going so well since then.”

“It sounds like the only way is up,” I say. “Do the lads get demoralised?”

“No, not so much,” says Jason. “They’ve stayed together. They’re a tight bunch. We try to sort out our mistakes in these training sessions.”

On behalf of the team Jordan successfully applied for funding from Forever Manchester’s Fourteen programme which meets their expenses for half a season. “We pay for this pitch and our match day pitch,” he says, “which includes hot showers after the game. And we need a minibus for the away games. The Fourteen money has helped us massively.”

And, on top of the football and the benefits it brings, the players have other opportunities too. The team has partnered with North Manchester Sport and Activity Forum which helps with funding applications and, in return, the lads act as volunteers at their events. A win-win.

Jordan blows his whistle and brings everyone together. “In terms of Saturday’s game boys, we’re against Arlington at home. We’ve played them before and beaten them. We’re expecting a tough game but we now know their style.

“The plan tonight is to work on the shape of the midfield.”

Encouraging and empowering local people

I can’t believe how much is going on at Manchester Communication Academy.

This afternoon I’m chatting with Jane Ellis who has been with the school’s community department for the last four years.

“I’d worked as a dental nurse for 20 years and was looking for a career change when I applied to work at the school when it first opened in 2010. Back then there were just three staff working on the community programme.”

Now Jane is one of a team of 11 whose job it is to support and outreach in to the school’s wider community.

They hire the school’s facilities to local sports and community groups, including a visually-impaired football team and the local scout group. They put on Adult Education courses where English and maths are in high demand.

There’s a ‘Once Upon A Time’ project for older people where you can drop in for a chat and a look back at local history. Jane’s team even includes a resident archaeologist.

“Why does a school like yours get so involved with its community?” I ask.

“As you know, this area is near the top of all the deprivation statistics,” says Jane. “And there are few other resources in this area.”

“It’s as if you’re a community centre within a school,” I suggest.

“We see our job as removing the barriers that people might have to make changes in their lifestyle,” she says. “That way we can help to improve those statistics.”

“It must be very different from being a dental nurse?” I suggest.

“It’s very rewarding. When you see someone come to, say, one of the classes for the first time, they might be quiet and nervous and think they’re not capable. But then you witness a real change.

“One lady, I remember, said the hardest thing was coming though the doors – it can be daunting for some people to just walk in to the building – but now she volunteers for us and has even got back into employment.”

Jane is currently setting up a ‘time bank’ for the area where local people can share their skills, offering to do small jobs for others.

“It could be doing some shopping for an older person,” she says, “or just sitting, having a conversation. There are a million opportunities.”

I ask why people might want to get involved. “Time banking can be a great stepping stone,” Jane explains. “Some people will do it to get volunteering experience, it will give them the edge when applying for jobs. For others it’ll be a chance to build their confidence.

“And anyone will be able to join without having to give back,” she explains, “no one will be in ‘time debt’.”

Jane is one of the newest members of Forever Manchester’s Local Reference Group, overseeing the allocation of funding from the Fourteen programme. “I got to know the Forever Manchester team when I applied for funding for the Frank Cohen alcohol support centre,” she says.

“What Forever Manchester is doing is amazing. They’re bringing people together, like we’re trying to do, and making people aware of what help and support is out there.”

By spending just a short time with Jane I can tell she is a real ‘people person’. She loves to be able to help and outside of her busy job with the Academy she still finds time to support her local food bank.

To get involved with Jane’s time bank, or any of the other activities on offer, give her a call on 0161 202 0161