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Summer Fun In The Cycling City

I've lived in Oxford for five years. Where I grew up, you didn't cycle on roads because the infrastructure wasn't there. I cycled on the canal. It was something you did for pleasure. And not something I find at all pleasurable in Oxford at this point in time. I bought a second-hand bike, knowing full well it could be stolen, so I'm not to become attached to this bike. I just need to get my confidence up. I need to get some tuition maybe. I cycle for pleasure rather than for need. But I'm trying to combine them, because it'd be nice to enjoy a commute on a bike. I’ll get there. I'm doing it small and steady. Little, little cycles. Not when it gets dark. And only on roads that I know. It's shown me the importance of learning to cycle on the road when you're younger.  

I work for Oxford Hub in the youth team, and part of my role is planning and coordinating holiday provision. That’s how I got involved with Broken Spoke, through three weeks of summer provision in Orchard Meadow Primary School and two weeks at St. Christopher's Primary School. I was recruiting staff and volunteers, securing the funding, getting the referrals for the children and working out some of the activities. The provision was called ‘Summer Schools’, but I wanted to call it ‘Summer Fun’. The children who came were referred for lots of different reasons; potentially needing extra support during the summer, and the idea was to give them the best time they could possibly have, and a hot meal. It didn’t have to be educational in the sense of sit down and read. It could be educational in loads of ways, even if that's just engaging with new children, learning new skills, or having hot food and doing PE. Post Covid restrictions we didn’t feel the need to go down the literacy and numeracy route quite so much, hence ‘Summer Fun’. The fun part for me was seeing what was on paper become reality. Seeing the children who were just referrals now running through the door wanting to be there, and at the end of the day saying to their parent: ‘Why can't we come back tomorrow? It was really good fun!’ That’s the reason we were doing this.  

At Orchard Meadow we had consent forms that went out to parents beforehand, which caused such excitement, like, ‘Ooh is it the cycling day today? I've got a bike. Is it today?’ That was fun to see, and the parents could feel that excitement as well. For those who didn’t have a bike, we could provide spare bikes. Lots of parents wrote on the forms: Not very confident, don't really know what they're doing on the bike; Be careful, keep an eye on them. To then hear the child say to their parent at the end of the day, ‘I rode this bike and I went round the court,’ it was lovely to see because they were growing in confidence. One kid got a slight injury, a scraped hand, but he was so keen to go back out and try again. That’s what can happen when you've got a really excited kid on a bike. 

No matter how much preparation you do in advance, you're always going to have to adapt and change and think on your feet. That's something I thought I knew. And that's something I knew I was going to have to apply going in. But I didn't realise quite how much that was the case. We adapt to suit the fact it's raining, and we're about to have 40 children coming through the doors with four classrooms to split everyone up into. The children look at you and go: ‘What next?’ And you can normally solve that by saying let’s play a game. But when you've got the practitioners or volunteers looking at you, it was completely new. I had less experience leading groups of practitioners or volunteers. So I had to learn to adapt in different ways. Putting that into action was definitely the biggest progression for me. 

The importance of cycling in Oxford for children is huge. It really is. Not to say that's your only way of getting around, but so many people cycle in Oxford and it's such a great way of getting around as a child. The signs say: Welcome to Oxford, the cycling city. And so when I first moved here, I was like, ‘Oh, well, clearly, everyone cycles, it's fine.’ But for a cycling city, it's only gradually getting the infrastructure. If we can't have the physical infrastructure, then the more people that learn how to cycle with the infrastructure we do have, the better. That’s why the cycling built into summer provision was such a wonderful opportunity for these kids.  

The great thing is that the cycling didn’t have to end at summer school. We could say we've got some spare bikes through the ‘Ready, Set, Go’ programme. Even though summer school is finished, and it feels like a long time ago now, there are still people getting involved in cycling programmes in different ways. I think it shows the impact we can have in a short amount of time, when reaching out to so many people. And it's an ongoing impact. It doesn't have to be bound by that set space of time. So even though someone came to St. Christopher's for three days they want to hear more about cycling and we can stay in contact with them. That’s how we can also do more partnership work. The more partnership work we can do, the better. That kind of connectedness is what will form a stronger community.


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