This article was published in 2021, in Magazine 153.
Spurred into action by the government’s Active Travel Fund, Milton Cycling Campaign was set up in summer 2020 by Milton residents Gabriel Bienzobas and Edward Taylor who were inspired to campaign for a low-traffic scheme for the village. Having grown in number and in activity since then, the group has a lively Facebook page and sends out a regular newsletter to its supporters.
Milton Cycling Campaign aims to enable cycling uptake and make cycling the default in Milton. It hopes to achieve this by encouraging a modal shift towards cycling (and walking) and supporting appropriate infrastructure measures in the village.
With Camcycle’s support, the group applied for funding through South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Zero Carbon Communities Fund and was awarded the maximum grant of £15,000 in December 2020. With this funding, Milton Cycling Campaign wanted to work with local organisations to provide high-quality cycle parking stands at key sites in the parish and on regular commuting routes for Milton residents, focusing on locations where the racks would be used often and helping to encourage efforts to reduce routine car use in Milton parish. Since then, over 200 stands have been installed including 140 new spaces at Impington Village College and the group has been busy on campaigns ranging from working on local issues along the A10 to signing the global cycling letter for COP26.
Milton Cycling Campaign’s guide to setting up a local group
- Work out where you stand on the campaign spectrum
Your view of cycling and car reduction is probably somewhere between Extinction Rebellion and Jeremy Clarkson/Elon Musk. Taking time to really understand why you are forming the group and what your policies are will help you to formulate goals and will also inform what messages might land well with others you’re influencing.
- Formulate some clear goals
For example, perhaps start by focusing on a particular road, street area or outcome, such as a new modal filter. In Milton, we are focusing on campaigns that will directly impact most Milton residents: the A10 cycleway to Waterbeach, the Mere Way cycleway, and village schemes.
- Form a small, trusted core team
It is important to be inclusive of ideas and open to forming a larger membership organisation, but the reality is you need a small trusted team to Get Things Done. Have some kind of written manifesto, and governance document if you like.
- Start small with free tools
Up to a certain point you don’t need any infrastructure beyond free tools. Just use Google for documents and email. Twitter is free and you can find free-to-use photo and video software to create your campaign communications. You also don’t need a website, bank account, mailing address, charitable status or a board of trustees initially. However, this doesn’t mean you should hide behind anonymity – be transparent about the group and what you’re doing.
- Look out for local grants and projects
We successfully bid for a Zero Carbon Communities grant from South Cambridgeshire District Council – be on the lookout for similar opportunities in your area. The grant has been distributed in South Cambridgeshire for the past three years, and there might be similar schemes near you. Thanks to this grant we have enabled businesses and organisations to install over 60 new cycle parking spaces in Milton village and 140 new spaces for secondary school students at IVC.
- Think of the group as your piece of voluntary community work
This gives you a box in which to put the time and energy you spend when it’s all too much and you feel like jacking it in.
- Be humble: campaigning is asking
Your group embodies the lack of a certain set of needs. Its existence is a sign that the community is out of balance until all your goals are achieved. Before that happens you will have to get used to asking those who can provide a remedy to do so. Asking can bring great benefits; we asked Cambridgeshire County Council for additional free cycle parking and they had some stands going spare. 64 of the spaces at Impington Village College (IVC) and 20 of the spaces in Milton were made possible thanks to this request.
- Be patient: campaigning isn’t always a linear process
Don’t be disheartened, but know that there will be many set-backs along the way. Feeling lonely, oppressed, hopeless or foolish can be a normal state of affairs in getting anything done in local politics and councils.
- Maintain good relationships with others
You’ll need to email your councillors and create links with other groups to achieve your aims, so good relationships are essential. Be careful not to burn bridges. However good it might feel to have a public rant against a certain person in the short term, that person may control certain critical resources you need in the long term. You need positive working relationships. But stay focused on your goals – don’t let others distract you or trap you into unintended compromises.
- Use social media wisely
Create a Facebook group. For better or worse, Facebook is where your neighbours are spending time. It’s a space you are in control of and you can test your messages and consolidate support. It’s where the campaign has a life. You’ll probably also post campaign updates on a Facebook village or neighbourhood group, but treat these groups with extreme care. Don’t waste energy on people who just drain it. If you manage to get your message out, count it as a win.
- Always remember to be powered by hope
It starts with this. Setting out your dreams and giving people hope for the future is free of charge. Share it!