Managing Director of Nottingham Bikeworks, Ian Keetley, chats to us about the Better By Bike project and the benefits of cycling for both your physical and mental wellbeing…
For those who don’t know, what is Better By Bike?
We've been running it for five years now. In our full programme, people come in, take one of our bikes that have been donated by members of the public, and refurbish it alongside one of our mechanics in a small group environment over a period of a week, for half a day a week. They learn basic skills, so they have the ability to keep the bike running afterwards. Then they join our bike rides, with our volunteer ride leaders, which run throughout the year. We very rarely have to cancel it due to the weather. People learn new skills, make friends, make lasting relationships, and they’ve got an affordable form of transport. Nottingham is getting better to travel around by bike, so this opens up doors to all sorts of things. We also do free fixing sessions on Fridays, which they can access. These are pitched at people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to get their bikes fixed. It’s a great project.
Who is it aimed at?
Its core beginnings were in mental health - it was originally aimed at people who are struggling with stress and anxiety, using the bike as a tool to address those issues. More recently, as we’ve learnt more about groups within the community, we've opened it up a bit wider to people with learning difficulties, or people who are looking to get a bit fitter or healthier. Sometimes, running isn’t accessible, whereas cycling is low impact on your joints and a bit easier to get involved with. Most people have done it at some point in their life, when they were a kid, so it’s not completely brand new so some barriers are removed from that point of view. Anyone who has issues that can be addressed by getting on a bike are more than welcome to get involved!
What was the inspiration for setting this up?
It was originally set up because, as avid cyclists ourselves, in terms of all of our staff, we know the benefits of it and we experience them ourselves every day. They say that you should do what you know and what we knew was cycling. Getting people on bikes is a great start for us in introducing community work into the organisation. It's grown into some more complex projects, so now we work with specialist schools in Nottingham as well. It is dependent on what needs to be addressed within Nottingham at the time. We have the confidence now it is more established that we can tailor it to help anyone. We also did a partnership project with Nottingham City Council, because we identified that NHS staff and key workers were struggling to get to work due to reluctance to use public transport due to COVID. We felt that bikes would be perfect for them, so we issued almost 500 bikes to key workers. We now work with Ukrainian refugees, as well as refugees from all around the world. We see our role as whatever the needs of the time are. Quite quickly, we’re moving into a fuel poverty crisis according to the news, and bikes can play a role in that too. We’re here to stay!
Cycling can introduce structure to your life, which can make a huge difference to your mental health
What are the benefits of cycling for your mental health and wellbeing?
You've got options on your bike, depending on how you're feeling. However you’re feeling, there’s an option for you. Sometimes, you will feel like going for a ride on your own, rather than with anyone else, to get some space. Quite quickly from Nottingham city centre you can get to some really nice countryside, parks and rivers. You can be out in nature very quickly, into healthier environments away from the stress of the city. You also have the option of the sociable side to it - going for a ride with a group of friends or a cycling group, stopping at a nice café or pub, and taking that time to sit down and have a chat and ask each other how you're all doing. The conversations start very polite, but a few weeks down the line they start to talk about deeper topics. It’s great that the bike can be an anecdotal tool for that. It's amazing how much of a sense of achievement it can bring as your fitness improves over a period of weeks, and it also introduces structure to your life, which can make a huge difference to your mental health.
What are the physical benefits of cycling?
The obvious one is aerobic ability, in terms of lung capacity, especially when you’re going up an incline. It also improves physical strength, in terms of your core and leg power. Surprisingly, it does work your upper body a lot too, so it works your whole body. The best part is that it does it without impact. A lot of people who are new to exercise struggle with minor impact related injuries, but cycling is accessible and helps to improve your fitness and activity without that risk of suffering injury. You’ll notice quickly the improvements in leg strength and leg muscles. This removes the worries of going along to things, and not being fit enough.
How can people get involved with the programme?
The best thing to do is get in touch! Drop us an email, contact us on social media, or give us a ring. We encourage people to come and meet us for a chat and a cup of tea so they can get to know the team and the environment before their first session. Other people who are already cycling and want to pass the benefit on to other people can be trained up to be ride leaders, or if you’ve got mechanical skills you can be trained to help people fix their bikes. If you don’t have the time for that, we're always on the lookout for bike donations and monetary donations as well. So, give us a call, pop your head in the shop door, and come and talk to us! We’re happy to talk all day about cycling.
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