Celebrating the Cycle Advocacy Network’s second anniversary

A mass cycle ride through Wells city centre, Somerset
Wells on Wheels mass ride. Photo: Wells Voice
As Cycling UK’s network to bring together all those who want to improve conditions for cycling turns two, campaigns officer Stephen Dominy looks at how we’ve been supporting the people who are speaking up for cycling in local communities across the four nations

Happy second CANniversary! If we were married – and technically we’re not – the Cycle Advocacy Network (CAN) and Cycling UK would be celebrating our cotton anniversary with you this weekend.

The threads that run through CAN are our local representatives, of whom we now have some 270 on the spool. Although each local rep is concerned with distinct issues in their different neighbourhoods, nobody is stranded.

The Cycle Advocacy Network is the loom that allows campaigners to weave their individual threads into an ever broader canvas – a robust, versatile material that we use as a basis for creative expression, as a sail to harness power, as a tent to provide shelter, as shoe fabric, and even (returning to the marriage analogy) as the floor of a wrestling ring.

Painting the CANvas

In Somerset, local rep Rupert Bullock has worked with Sustainable Wells to organise Wells on Wheels, a mass cycle ride that was part of the local council’s Wells Goes Green initiative. Some 45 people joined in the inaugural event which took place one Saturday in June.

“It was great, I really enjoyed it”, said Rupert. “We wanted to highlight cycling as a sustainable transport option in our city, and we set up a short, family-friendly route that linked green spaces, including the Cathedral Close.

“Local councillors were on hand to listen to suggestions about the places that most need improvements for safety and accessibility, and we encouraged participants to have their say. Now I’m going back to the team and saying that we need to build on this initial success.”

Rupert took inspiration from Cycle Winchester’s Mass Rides, which he read about on CAN’s discussion forum. Winchester-based rep Andy Key was able to link him to the event organisers for advice on how to set up something similar in Wells.

This is just one example of local reps learning about what’s going on in one part of the country and creatively adapting an idea to work for a different situation.

We are sailing

We’ve recently told stories from Danny in Caerphilly and Jill in Stevenage that illustrate very different examples of what our local reps are up to when it comes to harnessing power. It has taken them effort to hoist and set their respective sails, but now Danny has started to harness the power of his local community and Jill is harnessing the power of a national movement.

We’re learning that success in cycle campaigning isn’t always about the distance travelled, it can also be about braving the storm or gathering a flotilla to sail along with. It would certainly be well worth you reading or re-reading their stories – what inspiration can you take?

Wrestling with words

Each of us reading this will have experienced the effect of negative coverage of cycling in the national press and social media. Some of our local reps put a lot of effort into challenging and rebuffing the misinformation that we see and hear.

In East Anglia, John Thompson is a regular writer of letters to his local newspapers and has built himself a reputation with the editors as a trusted correspondent. He picked up his pen in response to the noise that Grant Shapps generated in August by appearing to suggest mandatory licensing of people who cycle.

Inspired by John’s ability to ‘cut through’, we updated and republished our ‘how to’ guide about writing to the paper. This is the latest addition to our impressive collection of helpful resources that we provide to the network.

Walk (or cycle) a mile in my shoes

Despite the development of promising policies and design standards at national levels, many local developers and transport planners are still failing to apply best practise, so the work of many of our local reps is about challenging badly implemented designs or trying to patch in improvements to existing roads and paths.

In a recent survey of our local reps, almost a third of respondents reported taking a councillor, planner or other decision-maker on a ride along local roads. A number of these were as a result of the specific guide we produced in the run-up to this May’s elections.

Enabling people to get first-hand experience of what it feels like to cycle along a problematic route can be a real eye-opener and helps influence our elected representatives to champion change themselves.

Big tent

The Cycle Advocacy Network stretches far more widely than ‘just’ our local representatives. My view of the canopy is from the inside out, and I see the local reps first because they’re closest to me. From every other viewpoint, it’s clear that many more people and groups are speaking up for cycling, too.

It’s important that you know that the network’s resources and support are there for you too, and for anyone who needs them, whether or not you are currently Cycling UK members.

Anyone can join our online gatherings or register for a consultation chat in our ongoing monthly surgery sessions. If you are working on a local issue and would like some friendly advice about possible ways forward, check out forthcoming dates, which we advertise on the main Cycle Advocacy Network page.

Pulling it together

Looking forward to what’s next, we’re keen to further amplify the voices of existing groups and grassroots initiatives. For example, back in July, we were able to give support to the Eastbourne campaign group Bespoke who were objecting to a town centre traffic regulation order that undermined cycling provision in the coastal town.

The Cycle Advocacy Network can provide light-touch support to existing movements, such as publicising bike buses and Kidical Mass rides. In the year to come we will be exploring ways of more officially partnering with other groups, too.

Have you cottoned on yet?

If you are speaking up for cycling in your community, then why not partner with us? You’re welcome to stitch yourself into the picture in the way that suits you best. Visit the CAN homepage and find out what we can do for you.