Blackpool backs school bike plan

Blackpool Council in conjunction with Sustrans are taking their Bike It scheme to local schools.'Bike It Officer Emma Peasland with Bispham High School pupils Josh Hill and Sarah Golder during the information assembly. PIC BY ROB LOCK'7-1-2011
Blackpool Council in conjunction with Sustrans are taking their Bike It scheme to local schools.'Bike It Officer Emma Peasland with Bispham High School pupils Josh Hill and Sarah Golder during the information assembly. PIC BY ROB LOCK'7-1-2011
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Blackpool is backing 12 local schools to encourage pupils to become healthier and help unclog congested roads. Jacqui Morley reports

Bike sheds were never like this in our day. But that was an age when children sneaked ciggies and kisses behind them.

Can’t see that happening at Bispham High School. The children are far too well behaved, the teachers too watchful and the brand new £12,500 bike shed isn’t really a shed at all. It’s more a statement of cycling intent.

Which is all very well, but you try convincing a child that cycling to school is cool – in winter.

Particularly if they have an obliging parent or grandparent willing to ferry them, even if it takes twice as long by car, what with roadworks, and rush hour traffic, as it might by bike. Or if they prefer to pile onto a bus and natter.

Emma Peasland’s assignment as Sustrans Bike It officer in Blackpool is to tempt children back to bikes. She’s at Bispham High’s morning assembly for the youngest pupils there, to enthuse 12-year-olds about sustainable transport, walking and cycling topping the list, followed by buses, trains, anything that doesn’t involve clogging roads with cars on short petrol guzzling hops.

School runs make up 22 per cent of traffic in the morning and afternoon peak periods. Remember, next time you arrive late for school, or work, that you are not stuck in traffic, you are traffic.

And with petrol at an all time high, dumping the car and taking to bikes is a good idea. But children, like the rest of us, like their creature comforts. “I don’t want to get cold,” one of the pupils tells me. “I’d quite like to take my bike, but I’d worry about losing it,” says another.

Carol Bracegirdle, traffic and road safety manager for Blackpool Council, reckons the reason more children don’t cycle to school is because there isn’t adequate storage for bikes.

Bispham High’s bike shed, sorry, storage facility, is just the start of the fight back for bikes. It was half funded by Cycle Blackpool, which maintains the resort as an official Cycle Town through Cycle England, one reason why so many cycle routes and lanes are appearing, and those hire bikes line the seafront ... although it would be nice to see more people actually use them.

Emma’s new in post and immensely enthusiastic, personally and professionally, about the benefits of biking. She will be running challenges in 12 schools, offering prizes, including new bikes, specialist bike displays, including by professional demonstration teams, as well as helping children maintain their bikes. She will also deliver curriculum activities relating to cycling and health.

Emma’s introduction goes down a storm at Bispham, where a sea of hands rises, albeit waveringly, in support of her mission.

Sustrans has seen cycling levels double in local schools involved within the first year of the project. “It’s a fantastic idea,” says John Topping, deputy head of Bispham High. “We have about 900 pupils and would love to encourage more to cycle. The earlier they start the better.”

“Cycling to school is a top idea,” adds Emma. “I bike everywhere. It’s been a boon with the roadworks on, but Blackpool is a great place to cycle anyway – it’s so flat.”

And while the children are getting the message ... one former teacher has too. Last year Julian Wilde, retired principal of King Edward VII and Queen Mary School in Lytham, set himself the new year challenge of cycling an average of seven miles each day.

“It doesn’t sound very far at all,” he admits, “especially on the Fylde where it’s flat as a pancake. It’s usually a 35-minute bike ride, but if I miss a day it’s 14 the next, and that’s the challenge. My longest ride was 32 miles.”

Having just qualified for his state pension, winter fuel allowance and first flu jab, the need to maintain fitness came more to the fore. He is also a carer for his mother Olivia, 94, who lives in St Annes. He uses the rural south Fylde lanes, routes he really enjoys and almost traffic free.

“I can take in all the sights and sounds of the countryside, the health benefits, for me, are secondary to the pleasure of the activity, and when you are biking there’s no weight bearing, on joints, so it’s comparatively easy and good for maintaining flexibility. I love the long days in June when you can hop on the bike at 4.30am or 9.45pm. It’s the short dark days of winter when motivation becomes a problem.”

He calculates he’s covered 2,555 miles, including cycling abroad, and it’s cost him £180 at most, for bike maintenance and hire.

Now hooked, Julian says cycling is a boom sport, thanks to the Olympic successes of Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton, and funding to give “biking it” a higher national, regional and local profile, with new cycle routes and lanes, and school schemes. He suggests first timers try the hire bikes on the seafront to test their skills and stamina.

And one Bispham High pupil likely to blaze the trail is Josh Hill, 12, who remembers the thrill of his first bike at four. “But I think I may wait until the summer...”