Road safety heroes’ teach 5,000-plus children cycling skills

Today is the start of National Road Safety week (15 to 21 November), but week-in, week-out since Covid-19 restrictions eased and schools reopened, the County Council’s Bikeability team has been teaching children how to ride safely … with just over 5,000 youngsters trained so far this year.

Bikeability, which used to be known as Cycle Proficiency training, is designed to give children the skills and confidence for cycling on today’s roads.

Joy Dennis, Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport, said: “The theme of Road Safety Week 2021 is road safety heroes, celebrating the heroic work of road safety professionals.

“I want to thank everyone who contributes to keeping the county’s roads safe. This includes the police and our fire and rescue service, our 61 school crossing patrols who see children and parents across the county’s roads every school day in all weathers, and, of course, our highway officers and contractor Balfour Beatty Living Places who, so far this year, have been called out to more than 2,600 emergencies, such as roads blocked by fallen trees and flooding, and keep a constant eye on the weather, ready to deploy our fleet of 19 gritters.

“But I also want to commend our Bikeability team of instructors. Investing in the future generations’ safety is so important and I congratulate the team for its hard work: even when the closure of schools meant courses had to be suspended last year, a team of instructors repaired abandoned bicycles destined for NHS workers.”

Since re-starting in March this year, the 5,000-plus children have received Bikeability Level One and Two training, taking them from the basics of balance and control, through to planning and making independent journeys on busier roads.

Bikeability Balance courses were also re-launched in September for pupils in Reception and Year 1. This is a series of school-based sessions using  games and balance bikes to develop their handling and awareness that aims to prepare children in Reception and Year 1 with the skills that they will need to take part in Bikeability Level One.

Our Wheels for all Project, run in partnership with Horsham District Council, re-started at Easter and ran through to the end of October. Horsham Wheels for ALL inclusive cycling | Horsham District Council

Bikeability instructor Natalie: ‘At the end of their training sessions, I love to see the children beaming from the experience’

Natalie Perrin has been a Bikeability instructor for six years and teaches cycling skills to children in the area between Littlehampton and Chichester. Here she answers some questions to explain why she finds her job so rewarding and identifies some of its challenges, too.

Natalie is pictured, above, with two Southway Primary School pupils in Bognor Regis.

What have been some of the highlights of your role as a Bikeability instructor, to date, and the most rewarding moment you can recall?

I really enjoy working with children who aren’t necessarily that experienced on the bike. We often have riders who, for whatever reason, have not had access to a bicycle or an area near their home where they can practise their riding skills. When we meet them, they can be nervous and lacking self-confidence when cycling. We always begin training with Bikeability Level 1. This session takes place in traffic-free environments and allows us to help them develop their basic bicycle controls skills, in preparation for riding on the road. It is great to see their self-confidence grow. I find it very rewarding progressing these riders onto roads and seeing them begin to make decisions independently. At the end of their training sessions, I love to see the children beaming from the experience!

What have been some of the challenges?

We often train in locations that are quite rural, or have speed limits of above 40mph, which we avoid using for Level 2 training. This means we must find roads suitable for use that still present us with the level of traffic needed to carry out the Bikeability syllabus outcomes. We also try to use roads that our riders are likely to use again in the future, perhaps if cycling to school or a friend’s house. Often, the County Council instructors will advise each other on suitable roads, if they have local knowledge of them. It’s very satisfying when you string together a suitable and realistic cycling route.

Would you recommend becoming a Bikeability instructor to anyone reading this who might be thinking the role appeals to them? What would you say are the key skills they would need?

Yes! Obviously, this job will be appealing to anyone either interested in cycling already or enjoys working with young people. I personally really enjoy the variety of personalities I am able to engage with. I enjoy understanding the needs of each rider and challenging myself to ensure we meet those needs. Bikeability helps young riders develop a riding strategy and road safety awareness whilst also helping to keep them fit and active. I think anyone wishing to become an instructor should have patience, empathy with their riders and be positive. Don’t worry if you haven’t had experience of instructing or cycle maintenance as this is all covered during your training! Finally, make be sure you like working outdoors. We train all-year-round, even in the cold and rain!

Find out more about Bikeability on our website.

How we can all play a part in making journeys safer for everyone

The County Council is responsible for maintaining around 2,500 miles of road: A and B roads are ordinarily inspected monthly, C-class and main distributor roads on a three or six-monthly basis and declassified roads are typically inspected annually.

  • Our highways officers cannot be everywhere, so the public’s eyes and help in spotting and reporting concerns, such as a pothole or overhanging tree branch, are really appreciated, and this can be reported via our website. If a concern is a significant and immediate risk to public safety, please phone 01243 642105.
  • There’s lots of general information about road safety on our website, too
  • There are 61 School Crossing Patrols (SCPs) across West Sussex, seeing children and parents across roads in all weathers during term time. There are a number of vacancies and anyone interested in becoming a SCP can find out more on our website
  • The County Council, including West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, is a partner in the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership (SSRP). The partnership also includes teams from Brighton and Hove City Council, East Sussex County Council, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, Highways England and Sussex Police. The SSRP continues its work to reduce road casualties across Sussex with education, engagement, enforcement and engineering.

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