At the Bike Lounge at the Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath in February, we spoke to Karen Creavin who is the Head of Wellbeing at Birmingham City Council. Karen’s remit is to encourage the inactive to be more active, through identifying barriers which BCC can help people to overcome. One example of the work of the BeActive programme is the provision of free leisure cards enabled people to try out physical activities that they would otherwise not have attempted. Karen told us that 80% of Birmingham’s residents don’t do sufficient regular exercise, which costs Birmingham upwards of £20 million per year.
She also told us that 40% of Birmingham is in the top 10% of deprived areas in the UK, so the cost of buying a bicycle can be a major barrier to people in Birmingham. One example she gave was of someone who had had a loan bicycle under the BeActive by Bike scheme and started cycling regularly, but still found the cost of buying a new bicycle too much when they had to give back the loan bicycle. One of the benefits of the Big Birmingham Bikes, Karen said, was that by involving Birmingham cycle retailers in the scheme, they are working towards showing a level of demand for cheap, quality bicycles that cycle retailers could make a profit on by buying in bulk. This happens in other countries, but there isn’t currently enough confidence yet here in Birmingham that the market exists for cycle retailers to take a gamble on this. We discussed the easy access to bicycles that the Cyclescheme offers people in secure jobs and the lack of such a scheme for people on benefits or working through temping agencies. Two ideas were suggested, one that cycle retailers and credit unions could work together to provide schemes for credit free bike loans, and the second that ‘time-banking’ could be used to build up points for interest-free loans on bicycles. These would enable anybody to spread the cost of a new bicycle over several months making it easier to buy.
Karen also told us that as part of the cycle hubs that BCC would be establishing a ‘bike library’ for kids bicycles (including balance bicycles). The idea behind this is that parents would donate bicycles that their children had grown out of, and borrow bicycles of an appropriate size for their children.
We also discussed what the next steps now that Sky Ride is not happening in Birmingham for a second year. While the lack of Sky Ride was not planned, it was suggested that it has given us the opportunity to ask “What do we want as a city?” and that we could look at organising an event that has a wider offering than Sky Ride has. Personally, I would argue that with only 16 big Sky Rides possible in the Sky year planner, it is better for smaller towns to benefit from a Sky Ride, while Birmingham is big enough to organise our own event. Karen suggested that there could be a ‘Festival of Cycling’, with a 1 day event in September 2015, looking to become a 2 day event in the future. This needs to be something that is celebratory and inclusive and that manages to reach out to people in Birmingham’s population who are inactive and need enabling and encouraging.
We discussed the various different ways that an event might be organised - whether to hold a central event or have a route that could take people out into the countryside. The difficulties of families with children but no car to carry bikes accessing an event was discussed, and the possibility of a hub event with spokes reaching out into the different communities in Birmingham was suggested. Cannon Hill Park and the River Rea route was suggested as a great location for a ride which could take people out into the countryside, but concerns were raised that we need to reach out to the north of the city centre where there is less cycling going on in order to reach the inactive more.
It was suggested that we could have a model where BCC builds a central structure for the mass event, with ways for lots of different groups to plug their own smaller activities into that structure. This means that there is a need to have a group of people who liaise together to organise this, to build connections and to try to enable different groups to get involved.
Update: The Birmingham Post has reported that marketing company, Sportcel, has been appointed to promote the Birmingham Cycle Revolution, including looking for a sponsor for the festival of cycling that Birmingham City Council hope to hold in September.