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London Borough of Ealing: Let's Ride Southall Project

Ealing Council in West London are creating the conditions to develop a mass community cycling culture in Southall, by tackling the core underlying barriers to cycling and putting residents at the heart of any change. The Sport England funded project involves the giveaway of up to 2,500 bikes to residents, a wraparound training offer, friends to cycle with, daily led cycle rides for all abilities and a platform to create wider system and infrastructure development to sustain a new cycling culture.

The challenge

As we all aspire to reduce health inequalities that the pandemic has only compounded across the areas of highest deprivation, where do we start? We know some towns are struggling to recover to normal health levels let alone narrow the gap to wider national targets. In addition, there are underlying complex challenges that diverse communities face; as well as specific place-based challenges which will surely be a familiar position across the country. Southall in Ealing is one of these places with alarming health inequality challenges.

A 2018 survey of 623 Southall residents demonstrated that over 43 per cent levels of the Southall population participated in no physical activity that regularly raised heart rate – where the national average is closer to 24 per cent. Health-wise Southall residents have the highest levels of type II diabetes in Ealing, some of the lowest life expectancy levels for men, and the highest levels of unregistered carers looking after unwell family members. In summary residents have the highest levels of preventable chronic conditions in a complex environment that includes the lowest levels of physical activity in the Borough. Yet Southall is amazingly vibrant; it’s the ‘go to’ location in West London, to pray, eat, shop for Asian clothes, exotic food, and jewellery. Settling communities want to live and ask to be housed in Southall. How can we leverage some of the positives of the place to create the conditions to be more active and healthier?

As Ealing Council declared a climate emergency in April 2019, pledging to make Ealing carbon neutral by 2030, a further challenge was to ensure that the solutions they established were not creating carbon emissions or negatively impacting climate change.

The solution

The Council, as part of a Sport England Local Delivery Pilot, is delivering this community cycling project to one of the largest to populations in London of residents from ethnic minority backgrounds to include a comprehensive support package of wraparound training. The Pilot’s Southall Social Movement has been used to empower residents to reflect upon and change their own behaviour, including if, when where and how.

Using £1.2m of Sport England funding backed by Ealing Council core investment over two years, the Council are creating the conditions to allow residents to build a cycling culture from a near zero baseline. The change will involve up to four new local cycling hubs with up to 2,500 free bikes. They already have our largest workshop based in some excess space adjacent to a large faith location in the heart of Southall. This is an example of how resident-enabled leadership via a Social Movement has been able to unlock new resources and work with the system for common goals.

The free bikes are made up of 1,400 brand new bikes, 35 adapted trikes and 1,065 mainly West London Waste recycled and refurbished bikes that would otherwise have gone into landfill. By using refurbished bikes, this enabled the Council to minimise the environmental impact of the project while minimising cost. The Social Movement provides friends to cycle with, opportunities to become mechanics, cycling leads and importantly works with the strategic leaders for the residents push for investment in local infrastructure.

The project now has the core resources and workshops setup. The team have started to distribute the first batch of 500 recycled bikes which will be blended with 500 new bikes.

The impact

The Council are creating mass behaviour change by creating the conditions to get thousands of cyclists onto roads in a way that works for them. They are removing the barriers to cycling that include not having a bike, being confident enough to cycle on the road and having someone and somewhere to cycle with and to. Their aspirations are that mass cycling in Southall will break the catch 22 of demand-led infrastructure investment that is restricting change. Using the Social Movement, they can tackle some of the taboos and myths around ethnic minority communities cycling. Cycling will not be seen as a backward step for settling communities, or frowned upon, when residents can see others like them cycling and getting active.

As well as the carbon savings from reducing car use that this change will deliver, they are already witnessing more cyclists on the road and much more interest from the wider system towards infrastructure to support this change. Together with the Canal and River Trust UK the Council were recently awarded a £700K grant from the GLA for investment to improve 1km of canal towpath matched with a further £300K from Ealing Council, to create a new cycling and walking wellbeing way for these new cyclists to benefit from.

With over 250 of the new bikes equipped with GPS tracking, part funded by the Council’s Highways Team, the data yield will enable the project to track where community residents actually cycle, which could be back roads, school routes, to faith locations, shops and not necessarily the main roads. The GPS data will also provide information on junctions that create abnormal braking and swerving to guide further highways investment.

A collection of images showing a large number of bicycles and people posting against them.

How is the approach being sustained?

The Council have a key partnership with West London Waste Authority which has allowed them to get ‘free bikes’ that have been collected from several waste centres across London. A wonderful circular economy has been created.

The core team of mechanics and cycling ride leads are made up of fully trained residents creating local capacity which the residents Social Movement will leverage, maximising the investment. The Council have now ‘taken over’ and hugely expanded Ealing’s Dr Bike event in Southall and made it into a cycling festival each month, with six local mechanics present and the Social Movement team delivering activities and talking to residents about the overall project.

The new cycle hubs are using community resources which have a long-term interest in sustaining the investment in local people.

Lessons learned

As the project has not yet been fully implemented, it is too early to tell whether there will be elements we will change in the future. However, the Council were able to learn from similar free bikes schemes which have been implemented in Birmingham and Essex.