St Teresa’s Primary, located in the Lochside area of Dumfries, were awarded a JMA grant back in 2015, to ensure they could deliver their Cycling Proficiency programme to as many students as possible at the school. At the start of summer, a few members of the JMA Team popped by for a visit, where we were really lucky to see the training in action, and able to speak to some of the young people and staff involved.
Lochside has been identified as an area of deprivation in governmental publications and council communications. Almost half of the pupils at St Teresa’s receive free school meals. Following a series of cutbacks in education budgets, the school were forced to reprioritise spending to ensure the essentials could still be provided to their young people. This unfortunately resulted in the withdrawal of their Cycling Proficiency programme (titled ‘Bikeability’ in recent years.)
The Bikeability courses aim to give young people more confidence in riding their bike, encouraging healthy lifestyles through increased exercise, and a much more environmentally friendly way to travel. It teaches the huge importance of road safety, from simply knowing how to control your bike, to preparation for on-road cycling and hazard perception. It’s really easy to understand how this course is beneficial to young people in so many ways, and so we were keen to help the school cover the costs involved with delivering Bikeability lessons.
Fortunately, two members of staff at St Teresa’s had completed the required Trainers Course, and were willing to provide their instruction to pupils after school, giving up their own time to help. Despite this brilliant generosity, they were facing a larger obstacle. When teaching young people how to ride bikes in a safe way, the first place to start is understanding the importance of a safe bike. In this regard, the staff were dealing with a mixed situation. Some pupils had no bike at all, and of the many that did, theirs were not in roadworthy condition. (Ever ridden a bike really fast with only the front breaks working? It never, ever ends well…) On top of this, a large number did not own cycling helmets.
To remedy this, the staff at St Teresa’s came to the JMA, and received £1600 to purchase safe equipment. They bought a number of brand new bikes, in both young adult’s and kid’s sizes, and plenty new helmets too. This allowed for the re-introduction of their Bikeability programme, and prevented any barriers from inclusion for any of the children, no matter their background or financial circumstances at home.
When we visited, Mr Slattery explained that to begin, the reintroduction of Bikeability at the school had focussed on those in P7. The local cluster high school has been working to strongly encourage their pupils to travel by bike each day, and the staff at St Teresa’s recognised this perfect opportunity to provide training before the transition. This would hopefully help the students feel confident cycling to their new high school. Further, with the benefits of exercise on both well-being and learning so evident, they hoped it would give a positive and healthy approach to their new surroundings from day one.
Since then, the programme has been extended to a wider group of those in the upper school. Here’s some of their feedback…
“I’ve enjoyed it a lot! I’ve got a bike at home but can’t bring it into school, so this is brilliant.”
“I’ve got a bike at home and I bring it to school. On weekends, I go out a lot. I like going very fast, it’s so good!”
“I have fun on them. I can do no handers. It’s better than class! And I did a project on bikes, on how they work and stuff. That was really good.”
We’d like to say a big thankyou to Mr Slattery and his fellow staff, for putting in their own time and effort to arrange all of the new equipment, and providing a brilliant course to the young people. Giving the pupils the confidence and motivation to get out and on their bikes at this young age will be massively beneficial for years to come!