As part of our This Girl Can programme, we recently trained seven women to become qualified cycling instructors. They took part in an intensive four-day course, during which they learnt about road safety, cycling standards and teaching techniques. Now, the women are qualified instructors, who will go on to support adults and children to learn to ride and develop their cycling skills.
The participants are also This Girl Can Ambassadors – women who are committed to championing inclusivity and participation for all and supporting other women to become more physically active and socially connected.
Tamsin, one of the newly qualified instructors is a single mum with a background in social care. She was studying for a degree in Youth and Community Work, and working within schools, when lockdown began, which meant she couldn’t continue working and was on Universal Credit.
She explained that as a single mum on benefits, ‘I answer to the government basically and so being able to do the course, it’s fantastic. It gives me a new qualification and helps me to do a job that I love, doing something I love.’ She saw the course as a great way to combine her love of cycling and skills in community development and youth engagement, while also being able to earn a living.
Tamsin had discovered her passion for cycling just before lockdown. At first, she had been borrowing her aunt’s bike, but it was old and rusty. Then her GP contacted her to tell her she was eligible for a bike on prescription*, which is offered as part of our Social Prescribing service, to help her lose weight. Having her own bike helped Tamsin get more into cycling. Then with the help of her mum, she bought her own road bike, to use on longer rides.
She found that taking time to yourself to be physically active can be a valuable break from the pressures of daily life, with many physical and mental health benefits. Tamsin explained that cycling is ‘an escape route for me away from the family and my children, which sounds horrible, but being stuck inside with your kids during lockdown can be testing’. After feeling confined in the house at times, she said she really enjoyed spending time outdoors and exploring new areas.
‘I absolutely love being active on my bike. I love just being outside, just being able to like, just have a chilled ride, watch beautiful scenery. Once you get onto the roads, into the countryside, it’s just pretty enjoyable and helps your mental health, helps you clear your mind.’
This Girl Can believes there is no ‘right’ way to get active and celebrates women being active however they like. Tamsin explained that she believes cycling gear should be for everyone, no matter their body shape or size.
‘The thing is, if you feel good on the inside, you feel good full stop. So, I may be a larger woman, however, I still wear tighter clothing. People probably look at me going, why is she wearing that, however, I’m not bothered. It’s what I’m comfortable in.’
As part of the course, the women learnt about cycling techniques and road safety, including the National Standard for cycle training, the Highway Code and instructor teaching methods. Tamsin said she built confidence in her cycling ability as well as a network of friends with a shared passion who are keen to meet up for rides and coffees. She explained, ‘we had four days together, now we’ve got a bond for life, all of us.’
Tamsin plans to work within schools and community settings and hopes to ‘be able to open the door to cycling to everybody’ by giving people a safe space to learn new skills. She’s excited to set up all-ability cycling groups, as well as beginner ride clubs for both adults and children.
In the past few years, more and more women have taken up cycling, but it still remains a very male dominated activity. Tamsin wants to be able to encourage more women to give it a go. She explained,
‘If I can just empower the next generation of women to stand up and just go, “actually I can do this”, even though they face tough times and sometimes feel like quitting. As long as they don’t quit, because we all have our dark days, no matter how positive you are, we all have dark days.’
Our cycling sessions and other activities are a great way to meet new people and become more socially and physically active. To find out more about what’s on in your area, check out our activity finder: https://theaws.co.uk/our-activities/.
*We are working with Raleigh and health partners in GP surgeries to identify patients whose mental and physical health would benefit from a ‘bike on prescription’. Patients are given a bike, which is theirs to keep, and information on how to access a range of free cycling activities, such as Led Rides.