A scheme which gives children with special needs access to unwanted bikes is having double dividends. Catherine Scott reports.
RAISING three children with autism is far from an easy task but, thanks to a local cycling initiative, that job may have become a little easier for one Yorkshire family.
Adele Reed-Griffiths, of Keighley, who has three children on the autisic spectrum had been looking for ways to get her family out of the house and get active.
She has James, 16, Euen, 13, and Gabriella, seven, and struggled to be able to take them out at the same time. Adele was keen for them to learn to ride bicycles, but found the children struggled to take to the new activity, with lessons not always the most suitable for people with autism.
But then she found out about the Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries scheme through a support group, and found a teacher adept at helping children with special needs at the AWARE library in Addingham.
“Life is very challenging with three children on the spectrum,” says Adele. “It’s very hard work. They don’t mix very well and I get very tired trying to split myself three ways to look after the children.
“When the opportunities do arise for the children to get out, I jump at the chance – it’s very rare we do something with all three children together.
“At the Yorkshire Bank Bike Library, they have had the opportunity to learn to cycle.
“We couldn’t possibly do that before with our children. We’ve battled, we’ve tried, we could never get them cycling.”
The teacher that Adele found at the AWARE library in Addingham was Chris Armstrong, a Bingley man who also set up a Yorkshire Bank Bike Library called BeCycling in his hometown.
The qualified instructor wanted to help all children enjoy cycling from an early age and was able to help Adele’s children on recycled bikes donated through the Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries scheme.
There are 49 such libraries across Yorkshire that have so far created over 50,000 chances for children to ride a bike, but it was in Addingham that Chris helped change a family’s life.
“When I met Adele, she was saying that the children have been to cycling clubs before but perhaps didn’t mix too well and found it quite a stressful experience,” says Chris.
“It’s been good to be able to provide a relaxed atmosphere, where the kids have been able to learn at their own pace without any pressures.
“It’s great to see some of them, who have perhaps been written off and told that they are not going to be able to ride a bike, and they have become very skilled riders now.
“It’s fantastic to see that independence now that some of us take for granted. On a personal level, seeing Adele’s children and the other kids who have come to the Aware Yorkshire Bank Bike Library learn to ride has really filled me with a sense of achievement.”
The Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries scheme has so far seen over 5,000 bikes donated and aims to give every child in Yorkshire free access to a bike or the opportunity to learn bike maintenance, regardless of circumstance.
But it is not only children who are benefiting from the scheme.
Twelve months ago, Neil Porter was, in his own words, in a very low and lonely place. He had finished work as a therapy assistant at Hull Royal Infirmary after a battle with mental health problems and was feeling the strain of caring for his wife Lisa, who is disabled.
However, the bike lover was a fervent spectator at the 2017 Tour de Yorkshire and one chance meeting there changed his life.
Neil got talking to John Marshall, the chief executive of R-evolution – a Cottingham-based charity which trains people who are out of work to fix bicycles with the aim of giving the repaired, finished articles to Yorkshire youngsters often through Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries.
Neil, From East Hull, embarked on a three-month training programme and has stayed on as a volunteer ever since. And Neil believes the chance to throw himself into a lifelong passion and make a difference may have saved his life. “I’ve suffered with mental health problems most of my adult life,” he says. “I didn’t realise it until maybe three years ago when I had a major breakdown. Since then I’ve been on anti-depressants and struggling with lack of concentration and lack of motivation.
“My wife is quite disabled. I’m looking after her and I needed something to do a few days a week just to keep my hand in really – a few days a week for my own wellbeing. I talked to John at the Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries stand at the Tour de Yorkshire – I loved what the charity did and it tied in with what I wanted to do and it went from there. I started working with them, going out on events and doing bike mechanic training and ride leader training.
“I can’t thank John enough for what he’s done for me – the difference in me from this time last year is amazing. I didn’t feel I had a purpose any more. I’d finished work, a job I actually really loved. And to find something that I loved equally has been a lifesaver for me. It’s had such an impact on my life. If I hadn’t found it I would probably be sitting at home in a very dark place. This has given me my life back. That ability to work on a bike, know what you’re doing, I’ve always tinkered, but the ability to do it right, make it safe and put a child on it is just fantastic.
“Just to see a kid on a bike you’ve fixed and to be happy and smiling and learning how to ride it properly – that great sense of achievement which obviously makes me feel better.”
Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries, in association with Cycle Yorkshire, make it simple for people to donate their old unwanted bikes for someone new to love your old bike.
Now in its fourth year alongside the Tour de Yorkshire, Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries share the official sponsorship of the General Classification blue leader’s jersey with Yorkshire Bank.
Their vision is to make cycling more accessible for all ages and all ability levels – so far more than 50,000 children and adults have benefited.
They want to help all children in Yorkshire to have access to a bike, free of charge.
There are currently 50 bike libraries across Yorkshire.
For more information or to find a bike library near you visit www.ybonline.co.uk/bikelibraries
R-evolution are part of the Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries family which works with ex- offenders to refurbish unwanted bikes and make them available to the general community, particularly in deprived areas.