Chichester is a 20mph city thanks to one mum’s dedication and a team of volunteers

Sarah's life changed when her daughter wanted to ride to school
Sarah Sharp never thought of herself as a cycle campaigner before she initiated the Chichester 20's Plenty campaign. In fact, this self-described 'ordinary housewife' didn’t even learn to ride a bike until she was 28. So what was it exactly that changed this mum of two?

“It was my daughter that really was the driving force", Sarah admits. A shy and quiet girl, she took a lot longer than her brother to learn to ride. But at age 11 and, after the first two days of mum and daughter cycling to school, Sarah’s daughter expressed a desire to go on her own.

Like any mother, Sarah didn’t want to stifle her daughter’s independence but she also needed to ensure her safety. The school had two drop-off points: one for cars and one for bicycles. But with most parents driving their teenagers to school, there was often a pinch point and confusion, especially when not everyone followed the same way.

I saw parents I knew, even ones with teenage sons older than my daughter, driving their kids to school and I realised they drove because of fear. They simply didn’t feel it was safe for their kids to cycle.

Sarah Sharp

That’s when Sarah started thinking that maybe she should do something; the light bulb moment of what exactly that was, however, didn’t come until February 2010 when she held a meeting over her concerns and a member mentioned Portsmouth’s successful 20’s Plenty Campaign. Hearing about how Portsmouth was able to make their roads safer got Sarah thinking and asking: what are the obstacles to creating a 20mph campaign for Chichester?

While it was Portsmouth’s campaign that gave Sarah direction and started her on the path in 2013 to success, it was not always easy. In November 2012, Chichester council decided to leave the decision of whether to adopt the 20's plenty campaign to a public vote, a decision that outraged Sarah, for whom the campaign was always about protecting the city’s children, rather than a speed limit.  

"There was a lot of work but, there was a lot of fun too, on 'In town without my car day', we took over a prime parking space in a very busy car park, rolled out grass, set up lawn chairs and had baked a ton of cakes. It was a beautiful day and we collected 200 signatures in favour of the campaign.” 

Knowing that she was doing something to benefit the entire community, Sarah relied heavily on fellow volunteers and received help and encouragement from the original 20's Plenty for Us campaigns team.

Advice to mums or others who may want to begin their own campaign:

1. Look to your existing network when starting out. Sarah began by 'piggybacking' on school and church group events when raising awareness and gathering signatures. These were where she knew people would be attending. “Its easier to join an event you know people will be going to then hoping people will come to your own event.”

2. Keep it sweet. Whenever you set up a stand and want to talk to people, make cakes. It’s much easier to engage people that way. Cakes can be decorated with a slogan too, making your message more memorable.

3. Be quick to celebrate your small victories. Change can take time so it’s important for you and those who are on your team to take the time to celebrate every little milestone.  

4. Appreciate your volunteers. When you find people who believe in your cause and are willing to give their time and share the tasks, be sure to make them feel valued. Sarah didn’t change Chichester all on her own but with the help of a group of volunteers. They often shared dinners and cakes together.

5. Take good pictures and be prepared to write. Your local newspaper staff are probably pretty busy. Your story is  going to be much more attractive if you can supply them with a good quality picture and possibly a short well written story.

20mph is one of the key points to make Space for Cycling. If you want to see 20mph in your area, the first step is to write to your councillors asking them to make Space for Cycling - click the link to get started.