Pedal Power makes a wheel of difference to cyclists with disabilities
Ben Kosky PUBLISHED: 11:40 21 July 2016 Islington Gazette
Emmanuel Nmecha, 17 (left) riding a two seater bike with support worker Harold Bennett during a disability cycle session run by Pedal Power at Emirates Stadium.
Many might think that when you’ve seen one bicycle, you’ve seen them all – but a Thursday morning visit to Emirates Stadium would certainly change your mind.
The fleet of machines circling Arsenal’s ground each week can include fixed wheel tricycles, tandems, the Finnish-designed kickbikes and even the cumbersome-looking Dutch velo that can carry a wheelchair.
The latter comes in particularly useful at Pedal Power, the north London cycling club set up 12 years ago to cater for adults and youngsters with learning disabilities.
As well as holding sessions every Tuesday and every other Saturday at Finsbury Park, the club have expanded to include their Emirates project over the past year.
Backed by the borough council’s All In Islington scheme and Arsenal in the Community, Pedal Power are now attracting almost 50 participants to the Emirates – with more than double that at Finsbury Park, ranging in age from three to 103.
Co-ordinator and founder of the club Jo Roach told the Gazette: “My daughter, who has a learning disability, is very good at cycling. When she went into supported living, I wanted to encourage her to keep it up.
“I’d just qualified as a cycle trainer, so I looked around for a club she could join – but there wasn’t one. I consulted the London Sports Forum and they suggested I start a club, so I did and it’s just grown.
“Originally we were at Eastway Cycle Circuit [which was demolished to make way for the Olympic park] and when we lost that they couldn’t get us another venue around there.
“So I ended up at Finsbury Park and that was so successful that Islington Council got in touch and commissioned me to start a cycling project at the Emirates.
“The range of bikes is enormous, but they’re very expensive. We’re very lucky to have been commissioned by Islington – through that we were able to buy a fleet of bikes and we’re adding to them all the time.
“There is a bike for every single disability and that’s why cycling is a truly inclusive activity. It’s spreading but not quickly enough, as far as I’m concerned.”
In addition to Islington, Pedal Power also receive funding from Hackney and Haringey councils – and were named club of the year by the latter, with one of their regular helpers, Wayne Godding, named as disabled volunteer of the year.
Volunteers are, of course, essential to the ongoing success of the club – and so, in Jo’s view, are the carers and support workers who help enable people to take part.
“The main thing is that cycling is huge fun,” added Jo, who was awarded a British Empire Medal at Buckingham Palace in recognition of her work earlier this year.
“We all enjoy ourselves enormously and, on that basis, if you’re having fun you’re also learning things – so for the participants, we work with them to improve their skills.
“For a lot of people it’s the first time they’ve ever cycled, which is such a thrill and it can be a big, big achievement for them to graduate from three wheels to two wheels.
“We also get support workers cycling because I feel if they enjoy the activity they’ll make sure the person they support comes and gets more out of it, so I am really keen on support workers being made to feel welcome.
“At weekends, we get people coming with their families and it can be the first time they’ve been able to do something together. That’s a huge thing in the world of disability.”
Pedal Power cycling sessions take place at the Emirates on Thursdays (10am-2pm) and Finsbury Park on Tuesdays (10am-1pm) and alternate Saturdays (12pm-4pm). See www.pedalpowercc.org for further details.
For more information about the sporting activities on offer to people with disabilities in Islington, go to www.allinislington.org.uk