Rural Connections project wheels into action

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Cycling UK is launching a new project to get more people walking, wheeling and cycling in Argyll and Bute.

Scotland has seen a surge in cycling during the Covid pandemic, with cycling journeys up 47 per cent in the 12 months since March 2020.

In two areas, Dunoon and Lerwick, Cycling Scotland’s counters recorded an increase of more than 100 per cent.

Car use remains high, however, with 78 per cent of people in rural and remote areas travelling to work or education by car compared with 65 per cent in the rest of Scotland.

The new Rural Connections project is designed to meet the unique needs of Argyll and Bute, the Western Isles and five other rural parts of Scotland.

Cycling UK staff will be based in these seven areas and will support people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to get active for everyday journeys, leisure and adventure.

The project will support walking, wheeling and cycling for all abilities including:

  • offering short and long-term cycle loans to help people find a cycle that works for them
  • supporting local organisations to coordinate and add walking, wheeling and cycling opportunities to their existing activities
  • upskilling of volunteers to deliver activities in their communities and keep cycles working if there is no local bike shop
  • building localised networks of organisations, communities and individuals supporting walking, wheeling and cycling initiatives.
  • As activity is known to boost mental and physical health, Rural Connections aims to enable more people to choose to get active instead of driving for short journeys, whether a trip to the shops, a visit to friends or to attend an appointment.

The project also aims to encourage people in rural and remote areas to walk, cycle or wheel to explore their surroundings: to enjoy a picnic, a family cycle ride or a pleasant walk without the use of a car.

The programme builds on Cycling UK’s current community work, such as the Scotland Cycle Repair Scheme which saw more than 30,000 bikes repaired during the pandemic.

Funded by Smarter Choices Smarter Places, development officers will use their expertise and knowledge to work closely with community organisations, businesses, public sector agencies and individuals.

Aisa Nebreda can’t wait to get started as Rural Connections development officer for Argyll and Bute.

She said: ‘I’m looking forward to working with lots of local organisations to increase the take-up of walking, wheeling and cycling, and I’m really keen to work with resource centres across Argyll and Bute to provide first-hand experience on all-ability cycles.

‘Cycling UK has worked very successfully with Fyne Homes recently and we would like to continue supporting that.’

Rural Connections senior project officer Fiona Johnston said: ‘Cycling UK knows walking, cycling and wheeling improves people’s health and wellbeing but the benefits are wider than that.

‘When more people choose to use their cars less, communities become more pleasant places and there can be an economic boost, so everyone in the community can benefit.

‘For those living in rural and remote areas, even if you want to travel in an active way it can sometimes seem like there’s no other option than the car.

‘Rural Connections aims to provide an alternative and the support many people need to make that change in behaviour.

‘Our staff will be people who live and work in the communities themselves, as they have the best knowledge of what will work in their area.’

For more information, contact aisa.nebreda@cyclinguk.org.