Sustrans helps give the freedom of cycling to refugees in Belfast

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wellonwheels3Christmas came early for some members of Belfast Friendship Club (BFC) who received second-hand bikes after completing cycle training with Sustrans.

The group of 13 asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers took part in the Well on Wheels project in which they had to complete National Standard Levels 1 and 2 on-road cycle training before getting a bike package to get them safely on the road.

Each trainee received a reconditioned bike donated to BFC and Sustrans provided them with bike lights, locks, helmets and hi viz clothing.

Sustrans’ Well on Wheels project is funded through Active Belfast as part of Belfast Strategic Partnership. It aims to enable people to get around safely by bike, by teaching them the skills to cycle on-road, and raise awareness of the health benefits of cycling.

The group were all volunteers from Belfast Friendship Club, a welcoming space for newcomers to the city as well as locals. Sustrans described its work to support marginalised people on International Migrants Day, 18 December which was established by the United Nations.

One of the recipients of the recent course, who wished to remain anonymous, said she hadn’t cycled in more than 25 years:

“To say I enjoyed it would be an understatement,” she said. “It was one of the most fun and interesting learning adventures I’ve had in a long time. People always used to tell me ‘once you learn cycling, you will never forget’ and while I used to nod my head in agreement, deep down inside I always doubted that idea… At the start of the training I remember shaking with nerves but, by the end of the day, not only have I passed both Levels 1 and 2, but I left for home cycling! What an achievement.”

Steven Patterson from Sustrans said: “We are pleased to help people who need access to a fully equipped bicycle and on-road cycle training to improve their safety on the road. Cycling is one of the cheapest and easiest means of getting around Belfast and will also keep you fit.

“For people who are new to Belfast this project helps people to navigate around the city and what better way than travelling by bike. Working with the Belfast Friendship Club we look forward to enabling more people, especially those who are marginalised, to get on two wheels and to increase their knowledge of cycle maintenance and route planning.”

Stephanie Mitchell, from the Belfast Friendship Club said: “Working with Sustrans is a brilliant opportunity for our members, opening up affordable travel, fitness and adventure all rolled into one. Next year we look forward to exploring some of the great cycle routes that can take us outside the city.”

David Tumilty, Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement Manager at the Public Health Agency, said: “Cycling is a great way to get active and a fantastic social activity for people to get together and explore their surroundings. Importantly, there are also huge health benefits to getting more active, with research showing that being physically active can help prevent a number of serious health conditions and can cut your risk of heart disease and some cancers, as well as reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke and joint pain.  It also helps to boost mood and reduce depression and anxiety.”

The Well on Wheels project has worked with more than 400 people in south Belfast over the past two years, of which 224 people have taken part in on-road cycle training. It began with a number of health fairs at community centres including in Sandy Row, Shaftesbury Centre, the Markets area and Lisburn Road to promote cycling and nutrition.

The events provided information on cycling safely, repairing minor faults and getting about Belfast through route planning.

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