BikeAbility Wales charity builds on ambition to get everyone cycling
Swansea based cycling charity BikeAbility Wales is looking forward to the future as they embrace change and pledge to get even more people cycling.
The charity was started in 2004 by Laura Bolton who became passionate about cycling while working for Sustrans. She realised that there was no cycling provision for people with disabilities in South West Wales, so she decided to do something about it.
Raising money for modified bikes, the project started with a handful of bikes stored at a business park hotel before going on to acquire a fleet of weird and wonderful bikes designed to get riders on the road, no matter what age, or physical or social obstacles they may face,
Although Laura passed away in 2009, her family, friends and colleagues continued her work ensuring BikeAbility Wales continued to go from strength to strength under the steady leadership of manager Mike Cherry and chair of the board of trustees, Keith Bolton, Laura’s husband.
Now, after seven years of commuting from Devon to work following a move from Swansea, Mike Cherry is stepping down as manager, making way for Cez Matthews, and local councillor Mary Sherwood has been elected to Chair after Keith decided to retire following many years in the role.
Mary has been a long-standing cyclist and a trustee at the charity for a year, and spoke to Nation Cymru this week about its plans for the future and upcoming opportunities to join the thriving organisation.
Paying tribute to the outgoing leadership, Mary said that this huge change has made the charity evaluate what it already does and what it hopes still to do, and how it can make this happen.
“Mike and Keith have grown the role of the charity, and we have had the opportunity to look at what we need and to define all the roles. We are creating two new part-time roles, a finance and funding post and someone to take on the technical side.”
She said: “Our main aim is to get everyone cycling. There is some piece of equipment out there to make it possible, no matter what barriers people may face.
“We are not a charity just for people with disabilities. We are charity for everyone. We want to make sure every child can cycle, we want to help anyone who wants to get on a bike.”
She said that during the recent lockdowns, quieter roads encouraged more people to give cycling a go and there was a real uplift in the enthusiasm for it. It gave people the chance to consider a cultural shift, instead of taking the car out, jumping on the bike instead.
The charity wants to hold onto that enthusiasm, and to encourage people to make use of the resources like interactive active travel maps, Sustrans, the bike advice on its website, and public bike hire schemes.
“Cycling is definitely the future, the more of us who do it, the better. Electric bikes and cargo bikes are game changers. They give people a real chance to change how they do things like commuting and shopping,” Mary Sherwood said.
“Parking is a nightmare and public transport doesn’t go where people need it to go. With more young people not leaving home and getting jobs they need to get to, sometimes you’ll see four or five cars in a family. For many people a bike is the answer.
“But there are barriers – decent bikes can be expensive, then you have to consider where you store it, how you lock it up, and then if you’re cycling everywhere, you’re going to need good kit to wear.”
Along with other cycling organisations such as Pedal Power and Sustrans, BikeAbility Wales is pushing Welsh Government for more resources to make cycling safe, accessible and attractive for everyone.
They are currently based at Dunvant Rugby Club in Swansea, conveniently placed next to the Clyne cycle path. Recognising that not everyone can get to them, however, they are working to raise funds to get a van, so that they can develop an outreach service.
In addition to accessible bike hire, they advise on adaptations, organise companion rides or group rides, or give buying advice and opportunities for ‘try before you buy’ on specialist equipment or electric bikes.
They run classes to get children safely cycling, but this can be restricted by the availability of qualified instructors. Mary says part of the charity’s future plan, is to train and recruit more cycling instructors so they can roll out more opportunities to children across south-west Wales.
Maintenance and teaching people to be able to maintain their bikes is an additional part of the charity’s workload. They also have a “Dr Bike” basic bike check service and can offer some repair and servicing of bikes.
Mary added: “We also have the contract for looking after the bikes in the Santander/Nextbike scheme. Although sometimes… they are not returned to the bases they’re meant to be at, and we have to go and track them down, recover them, repair them … it does challenge our small staff team.”
Find out more about resources and upcoming opportunities at BikeAbility Wales, here