The ‘hive mind’ of local cycle campaigners

Stephen Dominy's picture

The ‘hive mind’ of local cycle campaigners

Cycling UK’s new Cycle Advocacy Network is nearly six months young. It has already created the potential for more than 15,000 connections to be made, and there’s still plenty of space for more. Campaigns officer Stephen Dominy explains what the buzz is all about

After nearly half a year since the Cycle Advocacy Network (CAN) was launched, we’ve almost certainly completed our honeymoon period, although I’d like to think we’re still providing sweet joy to all involved.

One of the highlights of my job is that I chat with every prospective local representative. In doing so I’ve developed a certain patter for describing what CAN is about: "we’re the ‘hive mind’ of local cycle campaigners".

To make honey, bees store the nectar they collect in their ‘honey stomach’. When they return to the hive they pass the honey back through their mouths to the other worker bees who chew on it. The nectar is passed from bee to bee until it slowly transforms into honey.

For Cycle Advocacy Network the online discussion forum is the main hive for our local reps and regional coordinators. At the time of writing we have 175 ‘worker bees’ bringing in the nectar and chewing things over. By my maths there are therefore 15,400 potential connections to be made, and reps and coordinators are sharing experiences, asking for advice, making suggestions, talking things over and organically spreading wisdom. It’s already a rich, deep network.

School buzz

Barbara Gravenor, from North Yorkshire, was one of the first of the new local representatives when she joined CAN in early October. She says: “The forum has been great for making links with people around the UK. For example, I was delighted when John in Chester posted about preparing a local school questionnaire to survey parents and children about walking and cycling to school, and then Tim in Suffolk replied that he is already in the process of putting such a survey together.

I am involved in a Climate Change Partnership led by Richmondshire District Council and we have a problem with all our schools being located along the main road out of town. An active travel survey is something we’ve been thinking about doing for a while. Now I am in touch with others doing the same thing, and I don’t have to start from scratch.”

Teams in Wales

However, the online forum is not the only way of keeping in touch. Local representatives in Wales have met together online twice now, using Microsoft Teams. Chaired by Cycling UK’s engagement officer for Wales, Gwenda Owen, these virtual gatherings help establish relationships, discuss ways of working together and even inspire newcomers.

John Brierley lives on the Powys-Shropshire border and is new to the world of cycle campaigning. He attended the most recent video conference call, and afterwards said: “I was hugely impressed by the energy and experience in the meeting”. He was inspired to offer specific support for the effort to contact candidates in advance of May’s Senedd elections.

Scotland springboard

Inspired by the example from Wales, Cycling UK in Scotland is gathering its local campaigners and regional coordinators on the evening of 31 March. Together they will discuss ways forward and start planning how CAN members will maximise their impact, with more than half an eye on the forthcoming Scottish election.

Following discussion with regional coordinators we will start some more general online gatherings during this spring. We are offering campaigners from all four nations an alternative way to ‘meet’ each other and give a further dimension to the ongoing conversations and relationships. We’ll want to make a bit of a buzz, as alongside the national elections there are local elections in England, as well as elections for some metro mayors and police and crime commissioners.

Be different

What’s great about the Cycle Advocacy Network is that no two of our reps are the same. We have parents wanting safe space for their children, ride group leaders pressing for trunk road crossings, climate campaigners seeking car-free alternatives, mountain bikers building tracks and trails, city dwellers wanting safe routes to the country.

Some people have time to dedicate to the work, some can spare a few minutes now and then. We don’t always agree, not least because where there are three cycle campaigners there are four differing opinions (at least). We invite each other to view things from different perspectives.

Get involved

Please do consider if you’d like to join this hive mind. We welcome new local reps from across all four nations, and there are several vacancies for regional coordinators if you’re interested to have light-touch oversight of activities in a larger patch. If you’re not sure whether this is for you, do please make my day and contact me on stephen.dominy@cyclinguk.org

Hives typically contain thousands or even tens of thousands of bees, so there’s plenty of scope for many more reps to join in with ours. One bee can produce a tablespoon of honey in its lifetime, and that’s fine for a hot slice of toast. But the UK is one mighty big crumpet – so get your waggle on and join us in making the cycle advocacy honey.

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