After being inspired by the Eden Project, Gwen Cook, a teacher at a special needs school, found herself on the steering committee to set up an inclusive cycling project. Within a year Just Ride had launched and it now enables over 50 riders of all ages and abilities to get out and about on their bikes.
Gwen has always been passionate about cycling and, prior to attending a Community Camp at Eden, she'd been running an after-school cycling club as well as leading a bike riding group for local ladies which was giving adult women in Leigh-on-Sea the confidence to get out and about on bikes again. It was her husband, Alan, who got her involved with Eden. 'He was also the one who ran a ‘Dads & Kids’ group, got teams together to help out at local events and was generally ‘out there’ in the community,' says Gwen, 'as far as I was concerned, the things that I was doing didn’t really count. I was feeling a bit of a fraud!'
After attending a Community Camp at the Eden Project, Gwen's sense of trepidation dissipated. 'Through the weekend I started to believe that what I did was important, it did matter, and it did make a positive difference to our community,' says Gwen. 'I felt really valued and empowered and was filled with enthusiasm to do these things even better when I got home.'
A couple of months later, the owner of Gwen's local bike shop mentioned that another customer, Brian, was talking about setting up an inclusive cycling project and wondered if she was interested in helping. 'The next evening I was at the meeting and somehow, thanks to Eden, I had the courage to agree to be on the steering committee to set the project up,' says Gwen. 'Within another month I had travelled up to Manchester with Brian to spend a few days with Sue who runs a similar project over three sites. We came back buzzing and things started happening very quickly.'
'Agreements were made with the council and the leisure centre, initial funding was secured from the National Lottery, a bank account was opened, adapted and non-adapted bikes were begged, borrowed and bought, huge containers were installed next to the athletics track and flyers were printed. There was a frustrating delay when vandals broke into the temporary storage and wrecked all our bikes in an attempt to steal the components but, despite that, Just Ride opened to the public last August.'
The team has now increased Just Ride's stock of bikes and the project runs three very successful sessions each week. They regularly have up to 50 riders, as well as carers and parents, and they cater for a wide range of people from toddlers up to those in their nineties and of all abilities.
'We do seem to have a bike for everyone, including several wheelchair bikes,' says Gwen, 'many of the local (and not-so-local) day centres bring groups, and we are very popular with families on Saturdays and during the holidays. It truly is an inclusive project as all are welcomed. One of the groups that attended as service users one day a week now come and run the session on another day.'
'We desperately need more bikes as we now often run out of the adapted bikes during sessions and riders have to wait, but that is a good problem to have! I am very grateful to Eden for giving me the confidence and self-belief to be part of such an amazing project.'