Blackpool - tackling health inequalities through cycling
Cycle Blackpool was set up by Blackpool Council to increase the number of people that use and own bikes. This is a way of increasing levels of physical activity and reducing health inequalities. It has started a number of projects that focus specifically on people exposed to health inequalities or already living with chronic conditions.
Key learnings for other councils
There are strong links between Cycle Blackpool and NHS Blackpool, the local primary care trust (PCT). Both organisations share objectives such as increasing physical activity and reducing obesity.
It is important to identifying and understand the target audience. This has influenced the type of projects developed, and has also helped dictate other aspects of the programme, such as marketing and communications.
Many people in the target audience do not use the Internet regularly, if at all. So very traditional methods of advertising what's available: posters and leaflets in council reception offices, health centres, libraries, post offices and inserts in local free newspapers have been used.
Another aspect to promoting the work has been persistency. Gavin Baxter, Cycle Blackpool's Programme Manager, argues that one of the biggest advantages of the injection of funding from Cycling England has been employing people who can dedicate themselves to one or two projects. It has given them the capacity to "work on one ward area in the town at a time and work slowly from there."
Blackpool is the twelfth most deprived local authority area in England. It also has comparatively low levels of physical activity and bike ownership.
Unpublished research for Cycling England highlights the gap in levels of bike ownership between Blackpool and other towns. For example, 97 per cent of children in Cambridge own bikes compared with just 63 per cent for Blackpool.
Another survey for Cycle Blackpool revealed that the main reason why people did not cycle more in the town was because of ill-health or injuries. It was not because they were scared of cycling on the road.
The town is compact and flat, and it should be theoretically possible to get around by bike easily. But tackling a culture of low levels of bike ownership in a town with high health inequalities is a big challenge.
Recognising the town's unique combination of circumstances, in 2008, the council decided to bid to become a Cycling England Cycling Town. One of its stated objectives was to "provide cycling opportunities for all backgrounds, abilities and ages".
The Cycling England programme followed an initial investment in six towns, set up in 2005. This recognised that sustained, concentrated investment at, or close to, European levels would increase cycling levels and contribute to improvements in health. The call attracted 77 bids - Cycling England funded another 11 towns, including Blackpool, and one city.
The problems and how they were tackled
Cycle Blackpool is the organisation that was set up by Blackpool Council to manage the cycling town programme. It aims to provide opportunities for people without bikes to cycle, especially in areas of high deprivation, and for people who have limited mobility.
Boathouse cycling project
This project is working with young people (12 to 16-year-olds) who live in the most deprived areas of Blackpool. It is organised through a national Bike Club scheme, which is funded by Cycling England and Asda Pedal Power.
The coordinator recruits participants through local secondary schools and youth clubs, and also youth offending teams. The project runs Bikeability training (a nationally accredited off- and on-road cycle training scheme). It organises cycling trips and provides participants with an opportunity to try different types of cycling, including mountain biking, BMX riding and track (velodrome) cycling.
It also holds bike maintenance classes where participants learn to fix a donated bike and get to keep it at the end of the course.
Wheels for All
Cycle Blackpool has spent £25,000 on 12 tricycles and quad (4-wheeled) bikes that are adapted so that people with special needs or disabilities can use them. For example, one design uses hand cranks instead of foot pedals. Another even has a platform that can accommodate a wheelchair.
The project runs in Stanley Park, which is adjacent to the large Blackpool Victoria Hospital. The showpiece park includes an athletics track, which provides a stable surface for beginners to try the bikes out.
Laura Ivinson, Physical Activities Coordinator at Blackpool Council, says:
"The scheme caters for everybody. With these bikes I don't think there is anyone that we can't offer cycling to."
Regular users of the bikes include children with special needs, patients undergoing cardiac rehabilitation and older people.
Blackpool has set up a cycle hire scheme, which in theory makes bicycles available at low cost to all residents. People who are referred to exercise programmes by GPs can choose to have 12 weeks' of free membership and use of the bikes.
For others, the council is currently waiving the membership fee for Blackpool residents. However, there is a catch: people still need a credit or debit card to be able to use a bike. This is a very real barrier for a number of people because they don't have a bank account.
Gavin Baxter, Cycle Blackpool's Programme Manager, describes how his team's thinking evolved:
"We came back to thinking that we've actually got to get bikes into people's hands. Otherwise how do we get them onto a bike? They might be willing to participate but unless they've actually got a bike… then it isn't going to work."
Cycle Blackpool therefore set up a scheme which refurbishes discarded bikes and sells them very cheaply - sometimes as little as £5 and generally no more than £25 - to residents.
It applied successfully to the Future Jobs Fund for money to support two bicycle mechanic posts. The post-holders are being funded to train as professional mechanics as well as work for Cycle Blackpool. In the first five months of the scheme they have refurbished and sold 150 bicycles.
The trainees also run regular ‘Dr Bike' sessions where they do simple repairs on bikes for free. This helps solve the problem of people not being able to afford to get their bike fixed. In a year (to August 2010) they have fixed more than 500 bikes to make them safe to use again.
Outcomes and impact
An early benefit was commissioning Blackpool-specific data on cycling. This has enabled the team to target groups more effectively, especially young people and people with chronic health conditions.
The Boathouse project has involved around 40 young people directly. Baxter describes it as:
"…a good early success, we're getting some very, very deprived kids out doing something that will hopefully be sustainable."
In a recent review of the project participants highlighted the freedom that the project had given them. They especially enjoyed a mountain biking day trip to the Gisburn Forest in Lancashire. Many of them hadn't previously left Blackpool.
The take-up of the bikes available through the Wheels for All project has exceeded the expectations of the project team. But it has revealed just how many people stop doing exercise once they become inactive through an injury or illness. Ivinson says:
"Some of these people thought they would never be able to ride a bike again, yet with these cycles we're able to give them that opportunity."
Another benefit of this scheme has been the chance to meet people and socialise. GPs have begun referring people who are presenting with mental health problems such as depression, perhaps because their physical inactivity is stopping them from getting out and seeing people regularly.
The bike refurbishment scheme has also gone better than the project team expected. Baxter says:
"It has been a brilliant way of getting bikes out there - so many mums and dads simply can't afford to buy bikes for their kids."
Jackie Heighton is Healthy Weight Healthy Lives Lead for NHS Blackpool. She believes that Bikeability training provided for school-aged children may be one of the keys for improving health inequalities over time:
"It is raising kids' awareness that they can use cycling as a means of getting about… hopefully, they will continue to cycle as they get older."
More than 1,000 schoolchildren did the Bikeability training in Blackpool in 2009/10.
Costs and resources
Blackpool was awarded £5.6 million over three years when it became a Cycling Town in 2008. This has since been increased to £7.1 million, following some additional funding from Cycling England and additional partners becoming involved.
Some of the programmes covered by this case study have also levered in additional funding. For example, NHS Blackpool contributed £400,000 to the cycle hire scheme. The trainees that run the bike refurbishment scheme are funded through the Future Jobs Fund. This included £2,000 per staff member for training and tools.
Baxter concedes that the injection of cycling town funding has made many projects viable that might not otherwise have got off the ground. However, Cycle Blackpool is exploring how it can continue to run its existing programmes once the money runs out.
For example, now that it has invested in training and tools, it might be possible for the council to pay for at least some of a mechanic's salary through selling refurbished bikes, albeit at increased prices.
Contacts and links
Telephone: 01253 476261
Physical Activities Coordinator
Telephone: 01253 478463
Healthy Weight Healthy Lives Lead
Telephone: 01253 651034
31 August 2016