Scottish Interfaith Week

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Free Wheel North: Creating inclusive communities through cycling in Glasgow

Free Wheel North is an inclusive cycling charity, enabling thousands of people to enjoy outdoor space and exercise. The Glasgow based charity offers cycling training, guided group rides and a safe space for new learners and vulnerable users to cycle.

Although the charity focuses mainly on people with disabilities, ranging from multiple sclerosis to autism, no-one is excluded.

The mission of Free Wheel North is to create a barrier-free Glasgow, where people of all abilities, ages, genders and ethnicities mingle happily together and where people are the priority, not cars.

Reclaiming public space for people over cars

Free Wheel North campaigns for accessibility, clean air and to create ‘car-free’ events in the community that get people outside playing safely together. Before the age of the car, traditional squares or village greens were a template for integration and diversity.

Managing Director of Free Wheel North, Norman Armstrong said:

“We live in a world where it often seems like cars have more rights than people. Human beings are confined to the margins and are relegated to less than 10% of public space, or forced into car dependency.

“The point of Free Wheel North is to reclaim the historic purpose of public space. More space for humans, not motor vehicles. More space to play and grow as a community, and to create a greener, safer, healthier and fairer world.”

Creating a wee village in Glasgow Green

Since 2011, the charity has operated a cycle centre at Glasgow Green which provides cycling training and a safe space for vulnerable users and new learners.

​Their fleet of bicycles includes a range of adapted bikes, trikes, hand-crank cycles, tandems, and go-carts with something for every level of physical ability.

One participant’s mum said:

My son, Sean, is 13 years old with Downs syndrome and vision impairment, he started attending Free Wheel North in July 2020 and it has had a huge impact on his social and emotional wellbeing. Every member of the team are supportive, friendly and welcoming – he feels valued and supported at the sessions and always has the chance to succeed which has helped improve his confidence.

The cycling centre also has a community café called Coffee on the Green which won the STV Lottery People’s Project in 2019.

Managing Director Norman Armstrong said:

“Our cycling centre is more than a space for cycling, we are creating a wee village. Outside there are bikes going around, and inside we have the café with refreshments, and a bike shop.”

The diversity of the Free Wheel North community is wide ranging and inclusive of many of Scotland’s minority communities.

“We have people from many different cultural backgrounds and minority ethnic communities involved in the cycling. The nature of our projects is to be inclusive and welcoming for all people.”

Organising guided bike tours around the city

Free Wheel North also organises safe and sociable group rides exploring Glasgow and its surroundings for schools, youth groups and adults of all ages and abilities.

Rides are planned by qualified ride leaders to build up cycling skills, confidence and stamina, and to support the individual needs of participants. Participants can borrow a bike and learn how to move around the city in a safe and carbon friendly way.

Adapting cycling activities under lockdown

The charity was completely closed down during the first three months of the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, which meant project users were deprived of attending activities.

Since then, they have developed socially distanced sessions and now have the Cycle Centre back up and running, with Coffee on the Green currently doing takeaways.

“We’re not back to normal but we’re getting there.”

Cycling as a key form of climate action

We asked Managing Director Norman Armstrong what he would tell someone who wanted to take climate action, he said:

“The best thing you can do to tackle climate change is to take up cycling rather than driving, that’s probably the best thing you could ever conceivably do in terms of climate change, but also in terms of mental and physical health.

“We need to create climate-friendly communities which work for humans, not machines.”

Climate action: How to get involved

At Scottish Interfaith Week, we are delighted to be able to shine a light on the work of Free Wheel North. We believe climate action is important for people of all backgrounds, faiths and cultures to get involved with and that the work being done to spread climate awareness is key to the survival of our planet.

If you would like to find out more about the work of Free Wheel North, you can visit their website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

If this story has inspired you to take your own climate action, then why not consider hosting an event for Scottish Interfaith Week 2021, perhaps even a cycling tour or a sports activity? The theme this year is Together for Our Planet and we are encouraging individuals and organisations across Scotland to host climate-related events.

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