Helen Knell – volunteer local campaigner

Helen Knell
Helen Knell successfully campaigned for improved cycle infrastructure in her local area in Kent
Helen, a Cycling UK member, helped improve conditions for cyclists on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. Find out what she gets out of volunteering as a campaigner and why she encourages others to do so

Full name, area you live in and name of group or activity you support

Helen Knell, retired teacher, Isle of Sheppey, Kent.

I am chairman of the Lower Road Campaign. I started it to campaign for a cycle/pedestrian track on a busy road on Sheppey which is just wide enough for two cars and therefore very dangerous for cyclists and difficult for motorists if cyclists are on the road.

What made you decide to volunteer your skills with Cycling UK?

Feeling very angry after I was nearly knocked off my bike on this road.

How much time are you able to commit?

A lot at the start when the campaign was getting going but we soon had a group working together and we shared the load. There have been some busy periods and long quiet spells since then while the local politicians and the local paper kept the ball in the air.

It was busy again when we got the news that funding had been found to improve the road. It is now quiet again, we just make sure any developments are on our website. The effort has always been in busy spurts with long breaks so it is not really onerous.

What roles do you perform as a volunteer?

My campaigning is supporting anyone who wants to cycle on Sheppey and get to the eastern part of the island, rather than any specific activity. The route is used by people commuting and local cycling clubs, Cycling UK and others. I think my case is a bit different from someone who volunteers with a group or an event.

What is the greatest challenge you have encountered?

None of the campaign work has been difficult and often I felt I was pushing at open doors as the local community wanted improvements to the road and I have always been supported by a good team.

Describe a typical day in your volunteer role.

There is no typical day but typical activities are lots of emails within the team and to local politicians and Kent County Council and the local paper. There have been meetings with politicians and, recently, planners and I have attended Borough and Parish Council meetings.

When we had a sign beside the road to get support for our petition, we had to repair it several times when the winter weather affected it, which meant draughty evenings beside the road – it was too busy during the day.

I am pleased that we did our bit towards getting the cycle track and very glad that I did not simply go home and moan

Helen Knell, local cycle campaigner

Of all the tasks you have helped with, what are you most proud of?

I have only been involved with the campaign. I am pleased that we did our bit towards getting the cycle track and very glad that I did not simply go home and moan.

There were times when I wondered if we would ever see a track and I had to persuade myself to keep plodding on – I am so glad I did.

What did you get out of the experience?

I find volunteering  for any organisation very fulfilling. It is good to feel that I can still make a difference to my world and do something to help other people. Through the campaign I have learnt quite a bit about local politics and have great respect for most of our local politicians. I have also made friends with the people I have worked with.

Has it enhanced your passion for cycling and have you had the chance to get out more on your bike?

It has not really affected the amount of cycling I do but when we get the track, I will be able to cycle safely off Sheppey, which will be good. Ironically I have not been able to cycle regularly for a year due to a knee injury but I hope that I can by the time we get the track.

Could you describe your volunteering experience in three words?

Satisfying, interesting, positive.

What would you say to someone considering volunteering with Cycling UK?

Just do it, it is the only way we can improve facilities for cyclists in UK and attitudes to cyclists.

Find out more about becoming a volunteer