The Active Steps employee cycling and walking support scheme in lockdown – a participant’s experience

Photo of a woman cycling in the countryside

By Sally Burr, employee at Southdown Housing.

It was the depths of the original lockdown when I was emailed a poster for Sustrans Active Steps. The ad offered staff a bike loan for 10 weeks – delivered to your door! Plus a helmet and lock and lights. Everything you needed to get cycling.

I live on my own and although I was lucky to still have a job, I was starting to feel quite isolated working from home. I wasn’t very active either at the time. All the normal exercise from just everyday living had come to a halt and I had put on a bit of weight.

I signed up for the Active Steps scheme and it was brilliant! It was life changing to have a bike. We had weekly Zooms with Rob and Jamie from Sustrans, and the other participants, and posted updates on a Whatsapp group. It was really motivating to hear about where people were cycling and it inspired me to use my bike more. By the end of the programme I was shopping at Aldi with my bike and a rucksack rather than taking the car.

I’ve got a bike now (a fold-up bike as I live in a flat). I am aiming to get a hybrid bike and join a cycle club. It’s a cheap activity and it’s really sociable. And there’s nothing else I can think of that makes you feel 10 years old again, flying down a hill with your wind in the hair.

 

Helping employees to stay active through lockdown, and beyond: the Remote Active Steps scheme

By Robert Laslett, Sustrans Active Travel Officer for Workplaces in East Sussex County Council.

Sustrans is the charity making it easier for people to walk and cycle. This includes people in their workplaces, and increasingly, those working from home. Sustrans work in East Sussex is funded by East Sussex County Council, as part of their East Sussex Active Travel Programme. This aims to enable behavioural change by promoting active travel to local schools, communities and workplaces.

Workplaces and their employees benefit from choosing an active commute.  Regular walking and cycling has been found to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and staff morale, and lower turnover of staff. Not to mention all the environmental benefits of choosing a sustainable mode of travel (Appendix 2, Moment of Change Report, Sustrans 2021; see also endnotes, Gear Change: a Bold Vision for Walking and Cycling, Department for Transport, 2020).

Prior to the pandemic, we were running a programme called Active Steps, supporting employees to improve their cycle skills, confidence and motivation. We loaned participants a bike for 10 weeks, taking them out on led rides for practice and group support. We also offered basic maintenance training sessions to those who wanted them.

Then the country went into lockdown. This posed a big dilemma for the programme: no group exercise was allowed, and Sustrans had to stop all of its face-to-face work.

Instead we developed a remote version of Active Steps in East Sussex.  We still loaned bikes to participants, together with helmets, locks and lights. WhatsApp groups and weekly Zoom meet-ups were available for anyone who wanted some help with motivation, and to create a sense of group support. We offered advice, cycling tips, video and printed resources, and set the participants some fun motivational challenges.

For the pilot of the remote programme, we invited a group of employees from different workplaces across the area to take part, including Southdown Housing, East Sussex County Council and the NHS.

Over the course of 10 weeks, we covered a variety of skills, including understanding gears, where to position yourself on the road, cycling in British weather, and much more.

The first motivational challenge was for everyone to get out and take a ‘healthy selfie’ and tweet it for Active Sussex’s #HealthySelfieSussex campaign.  Here’s one of mine up on the South Downs:

Selfie of a man in the Southdowns

At the end of the programme we asked for feedback, and received really positive comments (after all, what’s not to like about a free bike loan for 10 weeks?). Participants’ weekly activity levels went up, and they reported improved wellbeing. We were able to have a positive impact for people in a really difficult time.

The Active Steps programme is currently able to be run outdoors with groups, so we can once again meet up for safe, fun led rides; but if (and let’s hope not) we have to go back to full lockdown, we are prepared!

What really makes the programme work is the positive enthusiasm of those taking part.

If you think you and your workplace colleagues might be interested in having active travel support from Sustrans, please do get in contact with me at robert.laslett@sustrans.org.uk