Hospital hosts successful Big Bike Revival for employees and recovering patients

Mike Carlin, cycle technician from Cheshire Cycles
Mike Carlin, cycle technician from Cheshire Cycles
June 21 wasn’t just the longest day of the year, but also Clean Air Day. With all those daylight hours and an increased awareness of cleaner travel, it was an ideal opportunity for the NHS to run their first Liverpool City Region Big Bike Revival event at Peasley Cross Hospital in St Helens. Among the volunteers was David Walker, a recovering patient with a recovered bike, proving how critical cycling can be in coping with mental health issues.

First off, the NHS Foundation Trust (NWBH) encouraged employees at their Peasley Cross site to ditch the car and travel to work by bike. Waiting for their arrival was Mike from Cheshire Cycles, who gave each bike a free safety check and service, whilst Cycling UK delivered puncture repair and M-check workshops. Also on hand were representatives from Vivup and Merseytravel, who were providing advice on Cycle to Work schemes and journey planning.

As a provider of mental health services, NWBH not only encourages employees to cycle to work for the physical benefits; it also delivers regular cycle maintenance and guided rides for patients as part of their recovery from mental health issues. Throughout this year’s Big Bike Revival, it will deliver Dr Bike Sessions and offer advice and incentives to all who cycle to work. In addition, Liverpool City Region BBR funding will be put aside train staff and volunteers as in leading rides and bicycle maintenance, and invested in health and wellbeing.

NHS Volunteer and former patient, David Walker with his recently refurbished road bike
Maria Clayfield

NHS volunteer David Walker, 31, is a keen cyclist who will be one to benefit from the ride leader training. Following a disrupted upbringing, David was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, as well as bipolar disorder. Nevertheless, at the age of 23, he bought his first bike since childhood, which he used to commute to work and keep fit. 

Riding his mountain bike has always helped David’s mood, improving his self-esteem and energy levels. However, self-medication with recreational drugs and alcohol set him back, and he was admitted to hospital. Following a sustained period of therapy, which included a course at Peasley Cross Hospital, David was recruited onto a scheme at Hollins Park that facilitated training as a fitness instructor. He now assists psychologists with their studies and regularly works with young people delivering ‘Healthy Body, Healthy Mind’ courses. 

As a former patient, David is keen to give something back and has now volunteered to support cycling activities at Peasley Cross Hospital. He will be trained as a Cycling UK ride leader and will organise regular outings for patients, with whom he can share his experiences and help them understand how important physical activity is for mental wellbeing. David will be able to do this on the road bike he recently refurbished, having recovered it from a pile of rubbish destined for landfill!

Riding my bike makes me feel happy and free. It gives me a welcome release from the stress and anxiety I sometimes struggle with.

David Walker

David said: "Cycling has helped me on the road to recovery and regain my independence. Riding my bike makes me feel happy and free. It gives me a welcome release from the stress and anxiety I sometimes struggle with.

“Being a Cycling UK ride leader at Peasley Cross Hospital, where I was a non-residential patient, will help me to achieve my goals to help people become more active and improve their mental health.”

Chris Alston, Cycling Development Officer for Liverpool City Region, said:  "Most people are now aware about the benefits cycling has on physical health and fitness; however, it also has a positive impact on mental wellbeing. Cycling is a fun, low-cost social activity, which enables people to exercise outdoors on a regular basis.  It’s amazing to see an organisation using cycling as a recovery tool for their service users past and present. 

“It was encouraging too to see so many members of staff coming along for free bike checks, advice on journey planning, puncture repairs and learning about how to take advantage of the Cycle to Work scheme. There were happy smiley faces all round and hopefully, many of the guys will go on to ride more regularly.

“To see an organisation breaking down barriers to cycling, and showing commitment to their employees’ health and active travel whilst involving former service users, is simply brilliant.”