How mindfulness and Big Bike Revival have helped Julie

A man and a woman stand holding new bicycles while a man in a red tracksuit top stands between them
Dave and Julie Evans were presented with their bikes by Mick Stanford of Cannon Hill CC
A former nurse with 22 years of experience in A&E who has been sharing her knowledge with the next generation has now shared an old bike too, so that a frontline worker can use it to stay safe and travel to work during the coronavirus crisis.

Julie Evans donated the folding bike she affectionately calls ‘Bertha’ to Cycling UK'S Big Bike Revival for Key Workers project and both her and husband Dave have in return been given bikes to use for work and leisure.

Julie is a clinical academic link tutor at Walsall Manor Hospital and Wolverhampton University, and Dave works as an information analyst at Walsall Manor.

She believes cycling can hugely improve mental health, for patients and for those who look after them. “Working in the NHS can be very stressful and particularly in these times,” she said, “it’s great if you can use the bike as a wind down from the day at work," she said.

Julie’s workplace recognises the importance of supporting staff mental health and Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust have established The Haven at the hospital; a space where staff can go to be mindful and receive counselling if they require it. Julie has encouraged staff to visit and also provided information about delivery centres in the Birmingham area which are offering Big Bike Revival for Key Workers services.

Riding the bike is helping Julie to process challenges that arose in her job, which has recently changed. Julie was working in A&E departments until shortly before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, when she took up a role training new staff. This has also evolved to include training those being deployed from other areas of the hospital to support the virus response.

She said it was still too early to judge what the long-term effect for those working on the frontline of the crisis might be. "I think in about six months we may know how people have coped. In the last two months people were running on adrenaline in the thick of it. When they take their foot off the pedal, that's when people start to think about what they are dealing with.” she said.

Although Julie's work is very busy, she and Dave have still found time to explore more of their area on their doorstep early in the morning. "It's been absolutely fantastic," said Julie. "We have seen lots of nature when out riding in the early morning on the canal and the nature reserve nearby. I adore herons and the other day I got to see three!"

Julie and Dave have received a Pendleton and Scott respectively, and as well as riding for well-being, also plan to utilise them for small shopping trips, and had one planned on Saturday, May 16 when their bikes were delivered. They were handed over by Mick Stanford, communications officer for Cannon Hill CC, who is working in conjunction with Ladywood New Roots CCC to restore donated bikes ready for key workers, and Vanessa Morris - Cycling UK development officer for Birmingham.

At the beginning of the lockdown period, Mick, who completed a Cycling UK advanced maintenance course last year, put the word out to a few friends to see if they knew of key workers who needed any help with their bikes.

"Initially I had seven or eight bikes come in and then when I heard about the grants on offer through the Big Bike Revival for Key Workers project, I realised there was an opportunity to do even more. I have got a van and I go and collect bikes and work on them in a gazebo I set up in the garden." 

After being featured on BBC Midlands Today, interest really took off and more people from around the region got in touch with requests or offers of donations. "It has taken off and we have had some really good bikes donated. There was one I picked up that was seven years old and it had only been ridden twice and they donated it for us to give to a key worker so it is really good to be bringing bikes like that back to life," he said.

"People want to be able to help and feel that they are doing something, otherwise in a few years, these bikes might have ended up on a tip somewhere instead of being used."

Both Julie and Dave have previous cycling experience but not for several years, though Julie said she was enjoying riding more than ever, particularly when she saw the support from the community. "When you go out and you pass all these houses with rainbow posters up in the windows, it is really uplifting" she said.