Julie Cunningham - Volunteer with a Community Cycle Club

Julie Cunningham of Belles on Bikes Falkirk
Julie Cunningham of Belles on Bikes Falkirk
Julie has been taking part in rides with Belles on Bikes Falkirk since the start of 2015, after a gap of about 15 years from cycling. She soon found herself volunteering to help out with the group and became a ride leader in April 2017. She describes below how she wants other women to share her passion for cycling, and what her volunteering gives her in return. Julie was nominated for an award in Cycling UK's Volunteer of the Year Awards 2017 for her enormous contribution to the group.

Thank you for your continued contribution to Cycling UK and the group that you volunteer with.

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

Julie Cunningham, volunteer ride leader, Falkirk, Belles on Bikes Falkirk

What made you decide to volunteer your skills with Cycling UK or a Cycling UK registered group?

My friend Laura set up Belles on Bikes Falkirk in 2014 and encouraged me to come out on the rides with her – that’s how I got back into cycling in January 2015 after about 15 years of non-cycling.

After a few rides, Laura asked me to be her back-stop so that she knew that no-one was left behind. Laura was going on holiday for a few weeks and she asked me to look after the Facebook page for her while she was away. She encouraged me to post to the page if I was going out so that others could join me – I think she knew that I needed a wee push!

Once Laura was back from holiday, it was just a natural progression that I was helping her with planning and scheduling rides. I qualified as a ride leader in April 2017.

Now, I just want other women to feel how I feel about cycling. I totally understand how scary it is to get on your first ride after a number of years and can now say how awesome it feels to complete 100KM in a day!

How much time were you able to commit?

It varies week to week. We try to run a weekday evening ride from Easter to October and as many Sundays as we can manage fitting it around family life. We have organised a few one-to-one sessions for beginners too on request.

This year, I have also arranged Learn then Ride sessions in January, March and April, Mug O’Tea and a Spanner sessions in June and a series of Big Bike Revival activities in June (led rides with Dr Bike available for pre-ride tweaks, route planning sessions and an introduction to mountain biking). We’ve also participated in the Women’s Festival of Cycling in July – we had a Teddy Belles Picnic to Culross which tied in with our 3rd birthday. I’ve also attended Cycling UK networking events (and gave a presentation about the Belles partnership with Forth Environment Link/Stirling Cycle Hub at one of them) and the AGM/Gathering, Stirling Cycle Hub events (and volunteered to help at some of their rides), and helped Belles on Bikes Edinburgh with their Learn then Ride sessions. 

Which activity or activities do you support?

See above! I’m happy to get involved with as many opportunities as I can fit around family life.

What is the greatest challenge you have encountered?

The biggest challenge at the moment is probably fitting everything I want to do into the hours in a day! Honestly, the biggest challenge was getting back on a bike closely followed by doing 100KM this summer and presenting at a networking event – I was as nervous about each. I was so scared that I’d make a fool of myself, but the support and encouragement I’ve had from those around me has been exceptional.

Describe a typical day in your volunteer role.

It depends what I’m doing. I check the Facebook, Twitter and emails on a daily basis and am always on the lookout for opportunities for myself and the Belles that ride with us.

On a ride day, we’ll do a pre-ride brief (M-checks, where we’re going, planned stop(s), checking we’ve got emergency contacts for everyone coming along etc.) and then go off and have some fun!

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

I think it’d have to a combination of all the events that I’ve planned and participated in this year. 2017 has been a really busy year and I’m really proud of every one of them.

I recently found out that I’d been shortlisted for Volunteer of the Year after Esmond Sage, Big Bike Revival Development Officer for the east of Scotland, nominated me! That came as a total surprise and I’m really honoured. I never even considered that I’d ever be nominated for something like that – I’m just trying to get women out on their bikes and feeling as positively about cycling as I do.

I’m looking forward to new adventures and challenges in 2018!

What do you get out of the experience of volunteering?

I love that I’ve had so many opportunities to push me out of my comfort zone while being supported and encouraged every step of the way. I’ve learnt so much this year specifically about bikes, cycling and red-tape surrounding cycling activities – my eyes have been opened to a whole world I didn’t realise existed.

How has volunteering enhanced your passion for cycling and do you have the chance to get out more on your bike?

Yes! I still don’t get out as often as I’d like, but get to learn new things, see new places, meet new people and try out things that are out of my comfort zone like bike maintenance, public speaking, planning events and mountain biking.

The support that the Cycling UK in Scotland team along with the other Belles ride leaders and Stirling Cycle Hub have given me is really appreciated. Riding my bike gives me the chance to free up that headspace that women/wives/mothers are so often guilty of filling with things they probably shouldn't worry about but worry about anyway, and generally becoming a more confident person, but I will say that getting involved with the Belles and subsequently meeting all of you who have given me so much support means the world to me.

Could you describe your volunteering experience in three words?

Fulfilling, exciting, supported.

What would you say to someone considering volunteering with Cycling UK or its local groups supporting cycling?

Try it out. You might like it! Sometimes it can be daunting thinking that there’s going to be a huge time commitment, but I only do what I can manage. Sometimes, you just have to say no and that’s ok. 

Find out more about becoming a volunteer