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Wheels for Wellbeing story

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Reading Time: 7 minutes

A lesson on wheels

On a beautiful, sunny, and very spring-like day last week, I went to visit the Disabled People’s User Led Organisation (DPULO) Wheels for Wellbeing, during one of their weekly sessions at Herne Hill Velodrome. I had been in contact with Isabelle, the organisation’s Director, and other staff members for the past two years, but if I’m honest, I couldn’t quite imagine what the session would look like in reality – aside from seeing people cycling, of course.

We had administered funds to Wheels for Wellbeing from Sport England, via the “TIF” (Tackling Inequalities Fund, now called the Together Fund), so I had read and heard all about the cycling sessions that they deliver. However, I can honestly say, that until you see and experience one of their cycling sessions for yourself, it’s difficult to appreciate just how fantastic – and fun – they really are.

I arrived at Herne Hill Velodrome – one of the venues that Wheels for Wellbeing hires for their sessions – just in time to see the ‘tail end’ of their morning session with participants from a local college. Shortly after, at midday, their “TIF” funded session started. I don’t know why, but I had naively expected the session to be structured, with everyone gathering around and awaiting instructions. Instead, I noted that people are free to arrive at any point during their prebooked 45 minutes slot, ride as little or as much as they’d like, and on the bike or trike of their choice – and what a choice there was.

There was every conceivable type of cycle you could think of and in a range of sizes. People are free to chop and change cycles during the session, to cycle in the “middle” area, which is large and flat, or to go around the circuit. Everyone is free to rest when they need to, and to go home when they’re ready.

I realised how naïve I’d been. Each week I block a 90-minute session at my local swimming pool; I’m free to start and finish my swim at any point within those 90 minutes, do as much or a little as I feel able to on that day, and vary the swimming stroke as I wish. Why would a cycling session be any different? This approach is clearly working, as Isabelle introduced me to people who have been participating in sessions for years, some since their schooldays.


Debbie, one of the staff members, suggested I try out one of the handcycles. Isabelle and I then had a great “meeting on wheels”, cycling around the circuit a few times, whilst she told me about all the different sessions Wheels for Wellbeing offer, the logistics of setting up a session, maintaining the cycles, and how some carers also enjoy joining in. It was so much fun cycling around the track and being in the fresh air and sunshine. Following a few laps, my arms were beginning to ache, so I switched to a recumbent trike, and we continued our “on the go” meeting.

It was so much more fun than meeting in an office, or on Teams or Zoom, which has been the norm over the past two years. I’m sure it was a lot healthier for us too. I told Isabelle that I hadn’t quite known what to expect when I arrived at the Velodrome, other than perhaps a bit more structure to the session, but having spent time observing and joining in, I’d realised that the flexibility of the session was its biggest quality.

“What we do here is co-production to the max.”

Isabelle Clement is the Director of Wheels for Wellbeing

Before I knew it, two hours had passed. I’d had so much fun and had really enjoyed meeting people and seeing everyone look so happy, that the time had just flown past. Cycling is good exercise, but it is also really good fun, particularly when there is no traffic to worry about. Before I left, there was just time for a quick look at some of the containers where the cycles are stored in between sessions, so I could see for myself the logistics of fitting them all in – “a game of Tetris” as Isabelle called it. We then had a quick wander through the building where the modern, fully accessible changing facilities are housed.

As I walked back to Herne Hill Station on a glorious March afternoon, I was left with something Isabelle had said earlier, running through in my mind,

“What we do here is co-production to the max.”

I couldn’t agree more. And of course, it makes absolute sense. All any cyclist wants is access to the facilities, the equipment, the infrastructure, and – if needed – the gentle support of experienced staff and volunteers, to enable them to cycle. From that point on, we should absolutely all be the decision-maker of how much we want to do, or how we want to do it. I’d learnt a lot that afternoon. Not just about Wheels for Wellbeing or cycling in the main, but the valuable lesson that getting active should always be about choice and control. After all, the best person to tell you what your body needs on any given day is you. If sports or leisure providers overstep that and take away flexibility, they take away the fun. And who wants that?! Not me, that’s for sure.

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