Last month the Department of Transport published Gear Change, a national strategy that seeks to make England “a great walking and cycling nation”, writes Josh Lenthall.

Media coverage has focused on the substantial changes proposed to the status quo regarding policy and infrastructure for active travel, but Active Oxfordshire was enthused to see that Gear Change went beyond that. Proposals for GPs to prescribe cycling also suggested options to make cycles available to those who cannot afford them, training to increase proficiency and confidence on the road, access to cycling groups and peer support.

These additional proposals reflect closely a great deal of work that Active Oxfordshire, with the support of the wider Oxfordshire community (cyclists and non-cyclists alike), has been engaged in to support people to make use of active travel since lockdown began.

We’re supportive of this national strategy, as it suits our local Oxfordshire Healthy Place Shaping approach, recognising that in addressing health and social inequalities we must address the three pillars of the built environment, community activation and new models of care. Put simply, we can and should build a great cycle lane for those who don’t have the confidence to ride, but we also need to make sure everyone has access to a cycle, knows how to maintain it and has somewhere to store it.

We’re delighted to be working with many excellent organisations to achieve this approach.

Oxford Hub recently ran a three-week Summer School in The Leys where children were able to learn to ride thanks to support from Wheels for All Oxford and Avanti. Children who did not own a bike received one from the newly formed Blackbird Leys Bike Library which is a partnership project between Active Oxfordshire, Oxford Hub and Access Sport, funded by Sport England. One happy young person had this to say about their cycling sessions: “well that was the most fun I’ve had in a day!”.

Throughout lockdown Cyclox and a range of partners including Broken Spoke Bike Co-op, have provided a staggering 245 bikes to Keyworkers in the city, with Windrush Bike Project and Cherwell District Council adding another 105 to the total. A true community effort, to support our Keyworker heroes.

Whilst owning a bike makes cycling more possible, many returning, or new cyclists, aren’t confident on their bike and may need support building their skills and confidence. Wheels for All Oxford, Avanti and Broken Spoke Bike Cooperative all offer cycle training for those in the City and through the Active Reach project, people living in the Leys are able to access cycle training and route planning to go alongside the Bike Library.

If we want to ensure that cycling is truly an activity for all in our city and county, then we need to be asking the question: “If you don’t own a cycle, and you are not confident about riding one, what support do you need to start and complete your journey?”. We are lucky that we have many fantastic organisations on hand to make this happen.