It’s a sunny day at Lockleaze Adventure Playground (or, the ‘Vench’), and you can hear the laughter and excited screams of children playing. A game of ‘lasso’ is underway: children are zipping around on bikes, trying to avoid being ‘lassoed’ by inflated inner tubes thrown, Frisbee-style, by Life Cycle volunteers Dan and Steve.
Only one child is rolling around on a scooter, barely keeping up with the speedier cyclists. Eight-year-old Aimee (name changed), is having fun, but she is painfully aware that she stands out from the kids on bikes. She has been trying to cycle since she was six years old, “but I keep falling off” she laments.
Noticing how much Aimee wants to join in, Steve and Dan begin to teach her to cycle.
“I thought the best way to get her going would be to get her to sit on the bike and scoot with both feet... within two weeks she’d managed to balance and pedal back up the slight incline in the playground.” – Steve, Life Cycle volunteer
With a little more practice, Aimee soon left her scooter behind, and now joins in with the cycling games, including lasso.
“I was so proud of her - it was very difficult to get her off the bike when it was going-home time!” - Steve
Through games like these, children improve their bike control, spatial awareness and boost their fitness. This makes a real difference to the health of the kids in Lockleaze, one of the poorest areas of Bristol, where 61% of young people are overweight.
Many cannot afford a working bike and are unaware of green spaces minutes from their homes. By getting kids on bikes and taking them out on fun summer cycling trips, Life Cycle’s activity sessions rectify this. Even better, many begin to cycle regularly too:
“My mum is getting me a bike of my own so I can use it more often. She said "Aimee, I am so proud of you!" – Aimee
It was not only Aimee who experienced a positive change. Activities at the Vench have a profound effect on our volunteers too. After retiring, Steve joined Life Cycle’s bike recycling project at HMP Bristol. And that was just the beginning:
“I wanted to give something back to society (and there is only so much DIY one can do)! Life Cycle was very welcoming. When I was asked to volunteer at the Vench, I agreed to give it a go... I’d worked alongside drug dealers and murderers but nothing prepared me for mischievous 6 - 13 year olds! Some of the children have behavioural difficulties and I ended a session shouting at someone. I realised I needed to drastically change. A year later I’m still at the Vench! I haven’t shouted at a child since, and my house is badly in need of DIY… but the feedback from the children far outweighs a freshly painted door!” - Steve
Life cycle runs cycling activities at Lockleaze, Southmead and St Pauls adventure playgrounds for children aged 6 – 13. For more information or to enquire about volunteering, go to: https://www.lifecycleuk.org.uk/youth or call 0117 335 4580.