Charity Forth Environment Link is set to launch a free roadside bike repair service for NHS key workers to encourage them to keep on cycling to work during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Bike Medic scheme responds to a surge in the number of NHS Forth Valley staff commuting by bike or e-bike and will be available from Monday 28 September.

Nearly 80 health professionals are currently borrowing electric bikes and bikes from Forth Environment Link’s bike lending library; with a further 300 cycles available to key workers for free through the charity’s public bike share schemes, nextbike Stirling and Forth Bike.

 BREAKDOWN COVER, BUT FOR BIKES

Bike MedicThe free call-out service will cover the Forth Valley region and operate in a similar way to car breakdown recovery, with bikes being repaired at the roadside or taken away for repair. Onward travel will also be covered, so if a bike can’t be easily fixed cyclists will be offered a courtesy bike to allow them to finish their journey or receive a lift to work.

The charity’s Active Travel Co-ordinator, Ray Burr, said: “It all began when a local nurse approached us at the beginning of lockdown for help fixing her bike. We offered her an e-bike from our free lending library while her bike was in for repair and that snowballed into us providing 75 electric bikes for key workers, as well as wrap around cycling advice and support. Since lockdown began, we’ve been inundated with enquiries from key workers wanting to ditch the car and get in the saddle and we’ve been only too happy to support them to make that change a reality.”

SCOTLAND’S GREEN RECOVERY

The new breakdown service will support Scotland’s green recovery as Clara Walker, the charity’s Executive Director, explained: “During lockdown we’ve witnessed a massive surge in cycling as people embrace active travel for both work and leisure. For the sake of our health and that of the planet, let’s make this change in commuting behaviour a lasting legacy of the pandemic. Rather than reaching for the car keys during the wet, cold winter months, the Bike Medic scheme will give NHS staff the confidence to keep cycling – knowing that we’ve got their back covered if their bike breaks down on the way to or from a shift.”

BOOSTING WELLBEING

NHS Forth Valley Nurse Varrie-Jane France NHS Forth Valley has praised the charity’s support for staff health and wellbeing. Medical Director Andrew Murray said: “Our staff have responded very positively to the offer of a free loan of one of FEL’s e-bikes to get to work during lockdown restrictions and this scheme recognises that not everyone may be comfortable with fixing a puncture or chain in the rare event of a breakdown. The creation of the bike mechanic role offers a strong degree of comfort, safety and support which we hope will be a deciding factor for people to get on their bikes and cycle to and from work and for leisure as we move into autumn and winter.

“Feedback from our staff so far has been really positive with staff telling us their fitness has improved, but also the bikes have helped their mental health and wellbeing too. At such a challenging time as this, this is very encouraging.”

SWITCHING TO CYCLING

NHS Forth Valley Nurse Varrie-Jane France, Bike Medic Ray Burr and Falkirk West MSP Michael MathesonLaunching the new service, Falkirk West MSP Michael Matheson said:

“I was delighted to attend the launch of this fantastic scheme to support local NHS staff who are choosing to cycle to work.

“It’s been really encouraging to see the big increase in the number of cyclists during lockdown. We must make the most of this opportunity to change commuting habits for good – and initiatives such as Bike Medic will play an important part in ensuring that people who have turned to cleaner and greener travel will continue to do so.

“The Scottish Government has stepped up its strong support for active travel even further during the pandemic, and I’m grateful to organisations such as Forth Environment Link for the work they’re doing on the ground to help people make the switch.”

The scheme has also been welcomed by Falkirk Council. Councillor Paul Garner, Falkirk Council’s spokesperson for the Environment, said: “Bike Medic is a great idea and supports the essential work being carried out right now by NHS workers.

“Over the past few months we have seen a big increase in the number of people using bikes of all sorts and this is certainly to be welcomed for the benefits it brings to the individual in terms of health as well as the improvements to the environment in the reduction of carbon emissions.

“With the extensive path network available locally and our ongoing support of active travel, we want to see an increase in the number of bike journeys made locally.”

PEDAL POWER BOOST

Funding for the initiative comes from The National Lottery Community Fund and Paths for All’s Smarter Choices, Smarter Places Open Fund and there are plans to extend Bike Medic to all keyworkers in the Forth Valley region after the initial pilot period ends.

Graham McQueen, Open Fund Senior Development Officer for Paths for All, said:

“We’ve been happy to give all our Open Fund projects room to adapt to the challenges and opportunities posed by the pandemic; and it’s been fantastic to see how Forth Environment Link has used that flexibility to deliver such a worthwhile and effective intervention for local key workers. It’s been great to hear how many NHS staff across the Forth Valley have taken the opportunity to sustainably travel to their place of work rather than drive.”

The National Lottery Community Fund’s Scotland Chair, Kate Still, added; “I would like to congratulate Forth Environment Link on the launch of the Bike Medic Scheme. I am delighted that National Lottery funding will also help contribute to this new roadside bike repair service which will be so important to help NHS key workers continue to commute to and from work safely.”

CASE STUDY

NHS Forth Valley Nurse Varrie-Jane France and Bike Medic Ray Burr.NHS Forth Valley Nurse Varrie-Jane France has gone the extra mile with one of Forth Environment Link’s electric bikes.

As well as commuting to her job as a Mental Health Nurse, Varrie-Jane clocked up 500km in August to raise £865 for the Maggie’s Forth Valley Cancer Centre which is based in the grounds of Forth Valley Royal Hospital.

The e-bike scheme has boosted Varrie-Jane’s mental and physical health. She said: “Thanks to Forth Environment Link I’ve unearthed a passion for cycling and have enjoyed commuting to my work with the use of the e-bike. Not only have I felt a significant improvement in my health and fitness, but I find cycling such a great stress reliever which has also led to me cycling more in my spare time.

“Prior to having the use of the e-bike it had been over 8 years since I was last on a bike and I would have struggled to complete a few miles! However, by being able to access this fantastic service and using the bike on a daily basis I have been able to build up my fitness levels and have completed 50-mile cycles.

“I decided I want to use the bike for a good cause and during the month of August I managed to complete a 500KM cycle for The Maggie’s centre which raised £865 for the centre to help them continue providing specialist cancer care support.”