Rural and remote areas to get a helping hand to walk, wheel and cycle more

woman cycling in rural area
The project will offer e-bike loans to individuals and businesses
Cycling UK’s Rural Connections project will support people in Scotland's most rural and remote areas to get more active for everyday journeys, leisure and adventure
  • New project will provide tailored support to Scotland’s most rural and remote communities including loaned bikes
  • Launching in seven areas: Shetland, Orkney, Caithness, Eilean Siar, Moray, Argyll and Bute and Scottish Borders
  • 47% increase in Scottish cycling journeys in 12 months since first lockdown rises to over 100% in Lerwick, Shetland and Dunoon, Argyll and Bute
  • People in rural and remote areas are most likely to travel to work or education by car

Cycling UK is launching a new project to get more people in rural and remote areas of Scotland walking, wheeling and cycling.

Called Rural Connections, the project is specifically designed to meet the unique needs of Shetland, Orkney, Highland, Eilean Siar, Moray, Argyll and Bute and Scottish Borders. Dedicated Cycling UK staff will be based in these seven areas and will support people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to get active for everyday journeys, leisure and adventure.

Scotland has seen a surge in cycling during the coronavirus pandemic, with cycling journeys up 47% in the 12 months following the start of the first lockdown in March 2020. In two of the areas featured in the project, Dunoon and Lerwick, Cycling Scotland’s counters recorded an increase of more than 100%.

However, car use remains high with 78% of people in rural and remote areas travelling to work or education by car compared with 65% in the rest of Scotland.

The project will work in a number of areas to support walking, wheeling and cycling for all abilities including:

  • offering short and long-term cycle loans to help people find a cycle that works for them
  • supporting local organisations to coordinate and add walking, wheeling and cycling opportunities to their existing activities
  • upskilling of volunteers to deliver activities in their communities and keep cycles working if there is no local bike shop
  • building localised networks of organisations, communities and individuals supporting walking, wheeling and cycling initiatives.

As activity is known to boost mental and physical health, Rural Connections aims to enable more people to choose to get active instead of driving for these short journeys, whether it’s a trip to the shops, a visit to friends or to attend an appointment.

The project also aims to encourage people in rural and remote areas to walk, wheel or cycle to explore their surroundings: to enjoy a picnic, a family cycle ride or a pleasant walk without the use of a car.

The programme builds on Cycling UK’s current community work, such as the Scotland Cycle Repair Scheme which saw more than 30,000 bikes repaired during the pandemic.

Funded by Smarter Choices Smarter Places, development officers embedded in local communities will use their expertise and local knowledge to work closely with community organisations, local businesses, public sector agencies and individuals.

Demonstrating the impact that cycling for everyday journeys can have, Reina in the Highlands was supported by Cycling UK to cycle to work. As a result she has saved time and money and been able to pursue more creative opportunities.

Fiona Johnston, Rural Connections senior project officer, said:

“Cycling UK knows walking, wheeling and cycling improves people’s health and wellbeing but the benefits are wider than that. When more people choose to use their cars less, communities become more pleasant places, there can be an economic boost, so everyone in the community can benefit.

“For those living in rural and remote areas, even if you want to travel in an active way it can sometimes seem like there’s no other option than the car. Rural Connections aims to provide an alternative and the support many people need to make that change in behaviour.

“Our staff will be people who live and work in the communities themselves, as they have the best knowledge of what will work in their area.”

Notes to editors

  1. Cycling UK, the UK’s cycling charity, imagines a world where the streets are free of congestion and the air is clean to breathe, where parents encourage their children to cycle to school and everyone shares the exhilaration of being in the saddle. For more than 140 years, we’ve been making our streets safer, opening up new traffic free routes and inspiring more people to cycle more often.
  2. We want everyone in Scotland to have the opportunity to walk, wheel or cycle to get around. We know that there are unique circumstances in rural and remote communities, which require a tailored approach. Rural Connections works with people of all backgrounds, ages and abilities in Shetland, Orkney, Highland, Eilean Siar, Moray, Argyll and Bute and Scottish Borders.
  3. Rural Connections is run by Cycling UK and funded by Smarter Choices Smarter Places.
  4. Data on cycling increase:
  5. Data on car use in rural areas:

Press contact information

For more information, please contact Jennifer Young on 07775 403652 or email Out of hours, call 07786 320 713.