Cycling helps tackle inequality through new fund

a varied group of people cycling together
Community cycle groups are a great way to enable more people to be active
The coronavirus crisis didn’t affect everyone equally: some people found it even harder to be active than before. James Scott, Cycling UK’s director of behaviour change and development, explains how a new fund from Sport England is making a real difference to the communities hardest hit by the pandemic

Over the past twelve months Cycling UK has worked alongside Sport England to help deliver the Tackling Inequalities Fund (TIF). TIF (now known as the Together Fund) has been created to work with four key audiences whom research identified were most at risk of being disproportionately affected by coronavirus:

•    Lower socio-economic groups

•    Culturally diverse communities

•    Disabled people

•    People with long-term health conditions

The latest data from Sport England’s Active Lives adult survey further reinforces the need for TIF’s focus: it highlights that the majority of people who take part in regular physical activity have managed to maintain this habit, even with a major disruption such as a global pandemic.

However, the audiences that TIF works with have seen a pronounced negative impact, with widening gaps in participation compared to others in society, not just during but also beyond the initial coronavirus lockdowns. It’s vital these demographics are supported and enabled to take part in physical activity and that is exactly what the fund has allowed us to do.

The inactivity problem is getting worse

Physical inactivity is currently one of the biggest causes of death within the UK. It is responsible for one in six deaths, with an estimated cost of £7.4 billion annually. The adverse effect this has on mortality rates and the negative economic health costs are well documented. 

Unfortunately, the trend towards inactivity is getting worse: the population is 20% less active than it was fifty years ago and unless there is a change in this upwards trajectory, it is estimated that by 2030 this figure will rise to 35% of the population. 

According to the World Health Organisation, physical inactivity is now a major public health concern, not just within the UK, but worldwide, with evidence and research proving it’s a key risk factor for noncommunicable diseases such as:

•    Cardiovascular diseases

•    Diabetes 

•    Cancer

Supporting communities to cycle

Our goal at Cycling UK is to enable millions more people to cycle and one of our strategic pillars is to ensure we enable cycling for all, so funds such as TIF are integral for us to achieve our mission. The money provided through Sport England’s TIF has supported our Community Cycle Clubs programme (CCCs), where community led groups use cycling to engage their neighbourhood in physical activity, supporting not only physical health improvement but also positively impacting social cohesion and mental wellbeing. 

Over the past twelve months this funding has helped support these clubs to survive the financial pressures of the coronavirus crisis by enabling them to modify or adapt their activities during the height of the lockdowns. Furthermore, it has enabled CCCs to recover from the impacts of the pandemic, helping them to get back up and running, rebuilding their capacity. 

Since joining forces with Sport England, we have supported and enabled 53 unique CCCs across England to date, and we are actively developing links with new groups to expand the reach of this programme to more communities. Specifically, we have funded 27 BAME focused clubs, a further 22 giving opportunities to those from low socio-economic backgrounds and four more empowering people with long-term health conditions.

In each case, the offer has been unique, and evidence has clearly shown that taking a flexible, reactive, community needs-led approach has helped the club to best support participants, and also to navigate the ever-changing landscape. 

Clubs like Bensons Hadley Stadium CCC in West Midlands have tailored their services, loaning bikes to families on low incomes to help tackle the emotional challenges caused by lockdown. 

Others, like Monty’s in Southampton, have responded to the barriers facing mothers in their community struggling to find time for their own activity due to childcare, sourcing carriers and trailers for their fleet of bikes to enable mum and child to attend a led ride together.

Aaina CCC in West Midlands sourced temporary leaders to continue running activities when their volunteers had to isolate at the height of the lockdown, being at higher risk of contracting coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Balsall Heath CCC and Joyful Bellas and Fellas CCC in Birmingham have sought to provide opportunities for their communities where other options normally available had ceased, helping people find new ways to be active.

Bike Hive in Manchester and Chelmsford Indians in Essex have increased their volunteering numbers to facilitate smaller group sizes and have accessed Ride Leader training.  

The 53 CCCs we funded through TIF monies have in turn supported over five thousand people, many of whom are new to cycling. For many participants, the need has been about providing a safe space to be active and cycle, with welcoming, trained ride leaders able to build confidence, providing encouragement and guidance within a coronavirus secure setting. 

For others, the key was gaining access to bikes despite individual financial pressures and national shortages. For all, the chance to connect with others after months of restrictions and isolation has been paramount and fostering a positive spirit to come through the pandemic stronger despite all of the challenges faced. 

Tackling inequalities is at the heart of the new Sport England strategy (Uniting the Movement) and this focus, along with our current strategy at Cycling UK, has allowed a shared purpose to form. It has built a unique learning environment to test and learn how best to collectively deliver the fund to communities throughout England, and help tackle the broad spectrum of inequalities that communities face daily. The programme has effectively connected individuals to their community to build social networks, feel well and enjoy being active by cycling in spite of environmental pressures. 

As we look forward, our offer of support is shifting from one of emergency relief to that of capacity and sustainability. The challenges facing our CCCs and their communities persist, with each group at different stages of recovery and facing unique challenges, and through our partnership with Sport England we are determined to enable cycling for all.