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Caithness playing its part in new project to get more people walking, wheeling and cycling


By Alan Hendry

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George Ewing, Cycling UK's development officer in the Caithness area for the Rural Connections project. Picture: Alan Hendry
George Ewing, Cycling UK's development officer in the Caithness area for the Rural Connections project. Picture: Alan Hendry

Caithness is among the areas at the forefront of a new project aimed at getting more people in rural Scotland walking, wheeling and cycling.

The initiative, called Rural Connections, was launched today by the charity Cycling UK to encourage active travel instead of driving for short journeys such as going to the shops, visiting friends or attending appointments.

A key aspect of the project will be the offer of short-term and long-term cycle loans to help people find a bike that works for them.

Caithness is one of seven areas covered by Rural Connections and George Ewing, a lifelong cyclist and retired police sergeant, has taken up the role of Cycling UK development officer for the county.

Rural Connections will also operate in Shetland, Orkney, the Western Isles, Moray, Argyll and Bute and the Scottish Borders. George and his counterparts in these areas will support people of all ages and abilities to get active for everyday journeys.

The development officers are funded by Smarter Choices, Smarter Places.

As well as arranging bike loans, they will be supporting local organisations to co-ordinate and add walking, wheeling and cycling opportunities to their existing activities. Volunteers will be sought to deliver activities in their communities and keep cycles working if there is no local bike shop.

“I am looking forward to working closely with the local authority, voluntary and community groups in Caithness," George said.

"The emphasis is really on trying to get people to change their attitudes in respect of using a bike for short journeys. If people are unsure how to use a bike then we're willing to help them learn.

“If they want to try and do group rides then we'll try to assist with setting up a small community cycling group and try to get them to go out on the bike. But it doesn't necessarily have to be a cycling group – it could be additional walking groups.

"We'll also be looking to promote the use of electric bikes a bit more.”

Fiona Johnston, senior project officer for Rural Connections.
Fiona Johnston, senior project officer for Rural Connections.

Fiona Johnston, senior project officer for Rural Connections, said: “Cycling UK knows that walking, cycling and wheeling improves people’s health and wellbeing but the benefits are wider than that. When more people choose to use their cars less, communities become more pleasant places, there can be an economic boost, so everyone in the community can benefit.

“For those living in rural areas, even if you want to travel in an active way it can sometimes seem like there’s no other option than the car. Rural Connections aims to provide an alternative and the support many people need to make that change in behaviour.

“Our staff will be people who live and work in the communities themselves, as they have the best knowledge of what will work in their area."

Cycling UK says Scotland has seen a surge in bike use during the pandemic, with cycling journeys up 47 per cent in the 12 months following the start of the first lockdown. However, car use remains high with 78 per cent of people in rural areas travelling to work or education by car compared with 65 per cent in the rest of Scotland.

The new project builds on Cycling UK’s current community work, such as the Scotland Cycle Repair Scheme which saw more than 30,000 bikes repaired during the pandemic.

George can be contacted on 07341 792374 or email him at george.ewing@cyclinguk.org


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