The Royal Foundation of St. Katharine, founded in 1147, is one of the oldest charities in the world, and has served as a centre for worship, hospitality and service over the centuries. In October 2015, the Foundation opened St. Katharine’s Precinct Meanwhile Project, whose aim is to create connections across communities by collaboratively developing a range of groups, activities and events - leading to a positive impact on individual and communal wellbeing in the East End.
The Limehouse Women’s Cycle Project is part of their work and aims to teach cycling skills to women from the Bengali community in Limehouse and Shadwell. The project takes place over the spring and summer months, with sessions taking place at Limehouse Marina and at St. Katharine’s Precinct, a welcoming space where the women can feel confident to learn.
The sessions are led by an experienced female cycling instructor who speaks Bengali, increasing the accessibility of the project. In addition to teaching the participants to cycle and building their confidence, the sessions also provided the women with an active social network, reducing feelings of isolation.
There are many different skill levels among participants: while some of the women had never sat on a bike before, others were in the early stages of learning how to ride a bike, or had not cycled since childhood. The instructors created individual learning plans to help each person make the most progress, with lessons including maintenance training, safe handling and choosing protective cycle wear. By the end of year two, those who had learnt to ride for the first time spoke of their sense of achievement at gaining a new skill and the confidence this brought.
Most of the women work locally or have children attending local schools, so often make short local journeys. With the cycling skills learned through the project, they have access to an affordable mode of transport.
“Having a routine of going to class on Sunday morning, knowing I’m going to spend it in beautiful surroundings with friendly women who are are all so inspiring, is a highlight of my weekend.”
– Momtaz Begum-Hossain, project participant