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Meet the Londoner who started a cycling club for people with learning disabilities

Meet the Londoner who started a cycling club for people with learning disabilities

Londoner Jo Roach was frustrated by the fact that her daughter, who has a learning disability, couldn’t find a suitable cycling club – so she set one up herself. [The club] now welcomes up to 100 people with learning disabilities at each of its cycling sessions.

“I was involved in community work for quite a while before I started Pedal Power. I ran a creche for mothers who were learning English as a second language and worked as a play leader in an adventure playground. When my daughter, Suzie, 42, was growing up, I raised money for the groups she went to by having jumble sales, and helped create a community garden…just normal things mums do. But a chance meeting with a fellow Hackney mother changed everything.

I bumped into Sally Haywill at the shops in 2002. She told me about a scheme she’d started in a local school. She’d acquired a fleet of bikes so every child could learn how to ride and was giving local mums, who needed flexible working hours, the opportunity to train and work as instructors. It was an amazing and far-sighted scheme. I’d never thought of my bike as anything other than an easy way to get around London, particularly when Suzie was little; Sally convinced me to qualify as a cycling instructor and join the team. I loved it – running a bikers’ breakfast so the kids had something nutritious to eat and playing cycling games in the playground before school.

Suzie is a keen cyclist, but, as she has learning disabilities, she couldn’t find a suitable cycling group. In 2004, inspired by Sally’s scheme, I started my own group: a cycling club for people with learning disabilities.

Pedal Power started off small – with just two original members. A tea party at my house raised £600 to get started. News of the club soon spread. Within a few weeks we had 10 members. I paid another trainer to run session with me and worked with a behavioural specialist to ensure we catered properly for our members. Ray Vallins, a parent of one of our first members, became our treasurer, and has been invaluable to the running of the club ever since.

Today we welcome between 50 and 100 cyclists to a session. Our youngest member was three – the oldest, 103! We’re an off-road club, as our members need to cycle in a safe environment while they build confidence and cycling skills.

I want to get Pedal Power in shape for the future. We need longer-term funding to ensure its continuation. At the moment, we still apply for grants on a year-by-year basis. We hold small scale events like the original team party to help with costs; this keeps out members and supporters involved and created a sense of ownership of the project. I’d encourage you to have fun while raising money to set up your own club or group.” Jo Roach

This article featured in The Guardian on Tuesday 13th September. The original photograph was taken by Camilla Greenwell.