The levy-supported Bike It scheme is funding Jill McDonald to get more Belfast children on bicycles. She tells Carlton Reid that local bike shops are pulling their weight...

Bike Hub’s Belfast boost

Bike It is the hyper successful cycling-in-schools programme run by Sustrans, and originally seed-funded by Bike Hub, the bike trade’s levy scheme. Fifty-two Bike It officers across the UK now get kids excited about cycling, boosting the numbers of children cycling to and from school. This can only be of benefit to local bike shops and some of them go out of their way to help Bike It.

BikeDock of Belfast is one such bike shop. Owner Derek Armstrong donates sweat equity, providing valuable time from his staff to go into schools with the pro-bike message.

Many of the Belfast schools plugged into by recently appointed Bike It officer Jill McDonald are in deprived areas, and cycle ownership isn’t high. As well as the standard discounts to pupils, BikeDock staff organise bike try-out and Dr Bike sessions to drum up support for cycling, and increase cycle ownership. The shop is also helping out with a bike recycling scheme – not all bike shops are fans of such second-hand bike schemes.

Unlike other Bike It officers, who are funded by Sustrans and a variety of trusts and some Government money, Jill McDonald is funded wholly by Bike Hub.

Her position entails working closely with schools, but she’s also a vocal PR voice for cycling in the local press.

She rolls out innovative and press-friendly schemes. In January she organised ‘Brighten Up Yourself’ day with Brooklands Primary School of Dundonald, Belfast. Two hundred and thirty children travelled to school as brightly as they could to highlight the importance of wearing bright colours whilst walking or cycling to school in the winter months.

At the same school, McDonald has also created a three-month reward scheme. Children who walk or cycle to school get given a raffle ticket. At the end of the three months the raffle tickets will go into a hat and prize winners will go on to get goodies donated by local bike shops.

McDonald also does school assemblies, runs poster competitions, letter writing campaigns and has created an ‘I Love My Bike Day’ at each school she works with, teaming up with bike shops to deliver the technical aspects.

Pupils are encouraged to look after their bikes, being shown how to wash and lube them properly. With the help of bike shops, children are encouraged to join a school Bike Crew, driving home the pro-cycling message.

“It’s essential to get the support of local bike shops,” says McDonald. “The commercial benefits aren’t direct or overt, but those dealers who get it, can see the bigger picture. It’s great to see the bike shop staff really getting stuck in. The kids appreciate it too.”

For McDonald’s ‘I Love My Bike Days’, BikeDock has loaned two staff members, a mechanic and a try-out supervisor. “This adds a lot to my games and bike wash,” says McDonald.

Three thousand, three hundred children have so far been involved in Bike It activities in Belfast. And that’s just in a single school term.

With more bike shop support, Bike It in Belfast could have a huge impact on the levels of youth cycling in the city.

The same is true in your area. Do you know who your local Bike It officer is? Get in touch! (In Scotland, Bike It is known as ‘I Bike.’)

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