Another Place

320px-Another_Place3_edit2Cresting the path through the dunes revealed a lot more than just a sea view. Out for a spin in the gap between breakfast and registration the last thing I was expecting to see was an art gallery! But what a fantastic start to the day.

A work in progress it would seem. Riding along the promenade towards Southport I passed some of the Antony Gormley figures modelling T-shirts and rucksacks. They probably make great cycle stands too.

The windmills along the Mersey look part of the exhibition. I wouldn’t suggest putting one on Glastonbury Tor, but they look clean and gently powerful to me – quite relaxing.

And staying over at the Crosby Lakeside Adventure Centre was nice and relaxing too. Checking emails on the lakeside veranda with a San Miguel as the sun went down – working late can be such a chore!

I recognised Heather from the excellent Wheels for Wellbeing video and we had a long chat in the Bistro. Circumstances were such that we missed each other at the Cycle Show back in October and it was great meet her at last. Preparations for the 2011 show at the Birmingham NEC are progressing well.

With around seventy participants booked in for the Wheels for all Conference there were bound to be some familiar faces, two being Ruth from Cambridge, who I met at the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group meeting in March, and Wendy from Truro who’s setting up the cycling project in Cornwall and is a stalwart from the very first pre-ICF meeting in Reading.

WfAConfPresentation-300x199We had a morning of presentations and an afternoon of workshops ahead of us, introduced by Director of Cycling Projects Ian Tierney. Ian is Mr Fixit when it comes to getting WfA cycling centres off the ground and with his help I’m hoping to get an inclusive centre up and running in my area.

This was the programme for the day, and you can see more pictures in Cycling Project’s Facebook album. This is what I took away…

First, Wheels for All is just that – for everyone. It’s easy to get locked in to thinking that these projects are just about disability cycling, when in fact they encompass all sorts of groups in society, the elderly being one example.

And therein lies a large part of the value of these projects. They’re not just benefiting the individual directly, but society in general by bringing together parts of communities that otherwise have no chance or reason to interact. All through the vehicle of the humble bicycle.

The other theme that came through is “the next step”.  You can only ride round an athletics track so many times before the shine starts to wear off, and that prompted Nichola in Hyndburn to champion the resuscitation of a woodland trail. Situated right next door to the Wheels for All sessions, the paths have been cleared and resurfaced to a width that accommodates inclusive cycles, creating a more challenging but delightful figure of eight woodland ride. Again, it drew the local community together to get the work done, and will now hold them together as they use it.

Taking things even further is Lucy in Crawley who has managed the installation of a new BMX track, half of which will be suitable for inclusive cycles! Expected to open at the beginning of June, it’s certainly the best example I’ve seen yet of integrating the most and least able in the same activity.

FourWheeler-300x224But what about the ultimate step for the disabled cyclist? No, as much as I’m looking forward to 2012, I’m not talking about becoming a paralympian.

Inclusive cycling centres are an end in themselves providing fun and exercise, but they can also be the starting point on a journey to a new, more independent life, as demonstrated by Caroline in Sheffield, Ruth in Ipswich and Ann in London.

For those of us that can manage it, everyday utility cycling is the life changer. Progressing from the four wheeler to a trike, and even perhaps getting to grips with a bike, gives access to what is probably the best mobility aid ever created.

Helen touched on it with the DfT Good Practice Guide for Disability Cycle Training. A welcome addition to the Bikeability training scheme, it was the only thing that came close to using cycles as transport and mobility aids.

And that’s my only criticism of what was a great day – nobody addressed the question of what’s being done so that graduates leaving WfA have somewhere to cycle and who’s doing it. We need a vision of Another Place where we can cycle in safety, and a chart to lead us to it.

I’m not just talking about taming traffic on the roads or building proper width cycle networks. Here in the UK the c-word is so insidiously toxic amongst the general public that disabled cyclists are being harassed and refused access to pavements and pedestrian areas too. Give up a mobility scooter for a cycle and very often you give up your human rights.

That’s a tad harsh on Cycling Projects which is doing a huge amount to give disabled people the chance to cycle, but it’s a question that needs to be recognised and resolved. Hopefully the next conference we’re attending will shed some light on it.

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