The Hope of Childs Hill (THOCH) are a not-for-profit organisation who provide various programmes, services and activities which promote well-being and community support in Childs Hill. Through a wide range of community initiatives they aim to strengthen the local area socially, economically and culturally, therefore creating a vibrant community.
THOCH set up WheeliO to try and increase activity levels of families in Childs Hill, predominantly focusing on individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Childs Hill is situated in the southernmost part of Barnet, North London. It is made up of six social housing estates, all with high levels of deprivation and one-in-ten tenants with rent arrears over £1000. Financial hardship impacts a significant number of the families here, who are vulnerable to issues such as physical inactivity, obesity and high rates of mortality from stroke.
WheeliO aims to tackle these issues by providing free bike and helmet hire which participants can then use for exercise, transport or leisure, therefore encouraging residents to be more active with their children. The project received funding from TfL’s Cycling Grants London scheme to provide the tools and volunteer support in order to help promote behavioural change. Along with this, the project also received an additional E-Bike Grant in order to provide e-bikes, primarily for older residents and those with mobility and health issues.
The project provides a pool of twenty bikes consisting of: five female bikes, five male bikes, five BMX, three e-bikes and two folding bikes. There is also a dedicated garage for storage, tools, bike maintenance and workshops. Workshops include: free fortnightly cycle skills training for families, BMX tuition and coaching, monthly over 50’s bikes sessions and organised rides during school holidays.
Since the project started, there have been twenty nine sessions. These have exceeded six hundred participants in total, with a minimum of three new participants per week. Some participants have now bought their own bikes; one individual even took part in the Prudential Ride London. THOCH believe a big part of their success stems from their ability to engage well with people and have conversations with participants.
Anthony Dawodu from THOCh said:“We have brought out a side of our community that has been left untapped for years. Watching local residents and kids cycling together is the most enjoyable and rewarding thing. People are eternally grateful for the grant; we haven’t looked back since, it’s been a great learning experience. We’re just grateful to the grant, to our volunteers, grateful to our residents.’’
Local people feel like they have now ‘claimed back’ their local park from being an anti-social hotspot, to a place for leisure and activities. Some older people, having not ridden bikes for decades and feeling nervous about getting back on one after so long, have been so excited and happy during the sessions that they have literally been screaming with joy!
On being asked about advice for other projects, the organiser recommended that people should model projects to the area and promote teamwork. Patience is needed, and not to be disheartened if initially participant numbers are low.
To keep the momentum going long-term, THOCH hope there will be a cohort of regular riders and volunteers to continue the activities. They will continue to push for community drive in order to install improved cycling infrastructure in Childs Hill, as well as a campaign to encourage local companies to donate and sponsor cycling activities in the area.