My 2020: Lee Craigie

Lee Craigie is the Active Nation Commissioner for Scotland and a cyclist who loves adventure.

In October 2019 I reluctantly paused my nomadic existence and moved from my home in the Highlands of Scotland to the City of Edinburgh to serve as Active Nation Commissioner for the Scottish Government. This position, funded by Transport Scotland, allows me the opportunity to help create the conditions required for the Scottish population to embed the everyday pleasures of walking and cycling for transport into our communities and, more importantly, our mindsets. We are a car dependent nation and this fact is not helping our health or our carbon emissions. 

I moved south for two reasons. Firstly, I couldn’t rely on public transport to get me to the central belt with my bike (which is easily the fastest way for me to get about a city) to attend public engagements. Secondly, it’s in the more densely populated communities in our cities that the necessary change in how we move about is most obvious and necessary. However, four months after my move, our world changed dramatically and I found my calendar of engagements wiped clean. After a few days of sitting with the discomfort of having nothing to do coupled with the restrictions on my movements, I yielded to this slower pace of life and found I had the time to consider what I value the most.  

I realised that I move around too much and that by always travelling to other places I don’t leave myself any time to appreciate where I am now. During lockdown, when I needed to go somewhere (to the shops, or out for a run or a ride), I really enjoyed moving through our cleaner, quieter streets or exploring tantalising singletrack in local woodland. This helped me map my new neighbourhood in way I would never have felt I had the time to do otherwise. 

I live in a 20 Minute Neighbourhood in the affluent south of the city. This means that everything I need in order to live, learn, work, exercise and socialise is within a 20 minute walk of my front door. But Covid highlighted some uncomfortable truths. Not everyone in our society is that lucky

Lee Cragie

Being forced to remain local opened my eyes to all I was missing. I met my neighbours and made lasting connections within my wider community. By shopping locally once a week and making do with less, I appreciated what I did have much more. In being estranged from friends and family during this time, I realised how much I valued daily interactions with them. But perhaps most importantly, I realised just how valuable the emotion regulating affect of being outdoors and active is.

Without the need to travel anywhere, and any with opportunity to adventure in far flung places removed, I joined the masses of people running, cycling and walking around our neighbourhood. I saw whole families out on scooters and one very old woman on a flash cross country mountain bike that looked like it had come straight off the race circuit. I remember wondering if birdsong was always that loud, if cherry blossom usually filled my nose from other side of the street. 

I realised that with the need for the daily commute by car removed, our lungs and the lungs of our planet were rejoicing. We’d been offered a valuable insight into how things could be. 

I live in a 20 Minute Neighbourhood in the affluent south of the city. This means that everything I need in order to live, learn, work, exercise and socialise is within a 20 minute walk of my front door. But Covid highlighted some uncomfortable truths. Not everyone in our society is that lucky. 

The previous Christmas, four of us from The Adventure Syndicate rode two cargo bikes (where our partner was the cargo!) non-stop between Edinburgh and Copenhagen. Project Resolution Race was our attempt at highlighting what humans might achieve if we collectively set our minds to halting our affects on climate change and that cargo bikes might be part of the solution to this. These two beaten up but very capable bikes were now sitting in the stairwell of our tenement flat in Edinburgh.

My partner Alice and I had some extra time on our hands and we knew that on the other side of the city, hotels had been turned into emergency homeless hostel accommodation and that food donations were helping make the lives of residents a little easier. What followed was a serendipitous flow of events that began with an introduction to Edinburgh’s food waste guru Cathy Miller and culminated in a wild gaggle of cargo bike riders picking up 60kg of bananas here, eight frozen geese there and dropping it at hostels, food banks and community kitchens all over the city.

It was so obvious to us that this crisis was disproportionately affecting those of us who already had less; single parents, young people, our homeless community. Doing our tiny but to help readdressing this injustice brought us so much personal joy and satisfaction that we also volunteered to help meet the demand for fresh grocery delivery in the city. With supermarkets and delivery drivers maxed out and our roads and high streets sitting deserted, it seemed the perfect opportunity to showcase what cargo bikes can do by delivering fruit and veg for a social enterprise and zero-waste grocer, Eco-Larder. 

I’d suspected it before but here I was experiencing it first hand; the way we move ourselves, our children and our goods around our towns and cities can be done differently and in a way that benefits everyone. 

The hostels we delivered to during lockdown have now closed and their residents moved on but the inequalities, exacerbated by Covid (and by our transport and housing structures) means their needs have not gone away. Post lockdown, community interest company, Cargo Bike Movement, now exists and continues to use the passion, legs and lungs of cargo biking volunteers to distribute food to those who need it the most.

I have recently taken a pledge committing me to a flight free 2021. It turns out adventure exists on your doorstep and contentment and satisfaction can be found in a mindset. That said, riding to Morocco as soon as the spread of this disease is under control also sounds like an excellent idea!