Getting a kettle installed in the Palace of Westminster is a big ask of either the antiquated wiring, the modern procedures, or both. Whatever the reason, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson now appears to be in the home straight when it comes to getting a cup of tea into the office without running the risk of spilling it. Winner of 11 paralympic gold medals in successive games, Dame Tanni was appointed as a crossbench ‘People’s Peer’ in March last year.
We’re both early for the APPCG meeting entitled ‘Disablity cycling – how to increase participation’; Tanni’s the speaker. Resting on the green leather bench outside room five I’m glad of the chat, calming my nerves after having barged in on the Coastguard ten minutes earlier.
Westminster Palace is so popular with visitors this afternoon some of the attendees are stuck in a long queue for the security check. Luckily I’d been fast tracked and given a guide to pilot me round the circuitous step free route to the committee corridor – shortcuts for which Tanni, over several months, has now got memorised. Anyway, the rooms are in constant use so Co-Chair Julian Huppert, MP for cycle friendly Cambridge, makes a start and introduces the Baroness.
Although run on the athletics track, wheelchair racing has a lot more in common with cycling than it does with traditional athletics – from the point of view of equipment you don’t need much more than a pair of shoes for running, and certainly not disc wheels. Also disability sport is strong at the top but lacks a broad base of participation. Dame Tanni wants participation in the sport increased – whether it’s competing or for recreation, disabled people benefit greatly from the exercise inherent in disability cycling.
Living about four miles away from parliament when in London, Tanni handcycles to work, feeling it’s important to get these different types of bikes seen. For convenience she generally uses a clip-on with her chair. From her own experience, whether it’s racing, having fun with the family or going to the shops, cycling is a great way for disabled people to keep fit.
Victoria, who you may remember wrote to us last year, was there representing the British Electric Bicycle Association. She made the point that a section of the disabled community use electric bikes and wondered why some of the Boris Bikes can’t have electric assist? Given their weight it would certainly make sense for those with limited strength, and who knows, could that mark the start of specific disabled cycle parking in the UK?
Ruth who works with people with learning difficulties is trying to set up an inclusive cycling centre in Cambridge. She’s visited one in Hackney and pointed out that embedding cycling in the community with these projects is a great way to increase participation at the grass roots. (Note to self: Must remember to add Hackney to the Places page)
On the sport side, British Cycling asked what they could do to increase participation? The Baroness thinks what they’re doing now is good – more of the same please.
Barriers to participation were discussed: Rob from Cambridge courier Outspoken pointed to the high relative cost of specialist cycles; there’s the fact that VAT is only exempt on certain cycles specifically made or adapted for the disabled – compare that with the Motability scheme where standard cars come VAT free; the lack of a charity to enable money to be raised and qualify for gift aid to fund expensive cycles for disabled adults; physical barriers, paths and lanes which are not wide enough for trikes and handcycles; the prevalence of derailleurs in this country when hub gears would generally be far more suitable for disabled cyclists; and the physical size of the larger cycles makes storage an issue.
And what is disability cycling like in other countries? Well, the SPEZI show we reported on last year gives a clue to that, and we might infer it’s better in Northern Europe given the higher levels of cycling there, but to be honest, we don’t really know what the stats are for participation.
A lot of ground was covered in an hour, and despite overdoing the walking I had a real spring in my crank on the ride back to Paddington. Uplifted I imagine by the knowledge that not only do we have a lovely, articulate, determined woman batting for disability cycling in the House of Lords, we also have a growing number of advocates making it happen at the grassroots.
A word of thanks to Paul, of the now sadly defunct body Cycling England, for tipping me off to the meeting, to Adam for reassuring me about getting to it, and in particular to the staff and police who let me do it my way with my mobility aid – disability awareness is done best when you’re unaware of it.