The Campaign recently announced the appointment of its second employee, Anna Williams, as our new Communications and Community Officer. Anna is responsible for internal and external communications across the organisation and for supporting and growing our community of members and volunteers. Here she gives an insight into her background in cycling and her plans for the future.
Cycling, for me, has never been about the bike. Well, OK, maybe it was a little when I woke up on my fourth birthday thrilled to find a new blue Raleigh Small Rider waiting for me in the living room, or when I stopped cycling so much during my early teens, embarrassed by the secondhand bike my grandmother had found me, which couldn’t even be pimped up to coolness by the addition of some coloured spokey-dokeys. Both bicycles gave me a wobbly start to cycling; I was reluctant to let go of the Raleigh’s plastic stabilisers and when I started training for my cycling proficiency test on the secondhand one, I remember darting my hand out like a frog’s tongue to signal – riding one-handed for any length of time seemed a daunting challenge, and we hadn’t even covered the flapping ‘I’m stopping/ slowing down’ signal yet. Does anyone still use that one, 25 years on?
By my late teens, I had a new bike which was nothing special but, crucially, not embarrassing to ride in front of friends. I cycled to see them, to school, to my weekend and holiday jobs and, later, to university from my shared house at the bottom of a big hill in Bath. There are lots of big hills in Bath. However, there is also a fantastic flat ride out to Bristol along the route of a disused railway line (the first major project completed by active-transport charity, Sustrans) and one weekend, when all my housemates were away, I set out with a rucksack to explore.
I don’t remember much about that ride, bar blue sky and exhilaration. A sense of achievement, the thrill of freedom running through my veins: yes, this is why I cycled! I had no money for a car, but returning home to Oxford in the holidays I felt no lack of independence. One summer, I worked two jobs: one on weekdays, one on weekends. My choice entirely, but I had forgotten what I’d miss by filling my days with money-making schemes. Ninety miles away, in ‘The Other Place’, I had a long-distance boyfriend who shared my love of cycling. A year later, we married and my bike and I joined him in Cambridge.
Our relationship is dotted with happy cycling memories from around the UK and further afield: the Taff Trail, the Camel Trail, a ride from London to Maidenhead to visit family, and holiday rides along the Gower peninsula. Huge beads of suncream-tasting sweat as we tried to ride hire bikes on a steep climb in Zakynthos. A warm breeze as we cruised downhill to the beach at Byron Bay in Australia. Borrowing friends’ bikes in Boise, Idaho. Feeling at home on a Dutch bike in Amsterdam. Adventures linked by fun, freedom and a lot of making it up as we went along.
However enjoyable it was to explore other countries by bike, it was always good to return home to our own saddles and cycle lanes. My job at a local advertising agency meant I had a bit more money than in university days, but I was still reluctant to spend it on a car. In 2004, the agency relocated eight miles out of town to Swaffham Bulbeck: there was a spare company car going free but when I realised I’d be taxed on it, I decided to keep the cash. ‘But it’s much too far to cycle’ my boss exclaimed, bemused by my choice. I was happy to prove her wrong and enjoyed commuting through the changing seasons past roadside poppies, fields of wheat and wild rabbits who leapt into their burrows from the cycle path as they acknowledged my approach.
I did get the bus too, especially in winter and on long, dark nights of working late when the country roads felt lonely and threatening. I think of transport choices as comparable to eating a balanced diet – we should try to pick as much as we can of the healthy options (in this case, walking and cycling), combining them with a mix of everything else. Cars are useful and convenient (and often beautiful and fun, as well), but shouldn’t make up the majority of our transport diet, particularly within cities. My husband and I used hire cars, and a car share for a while, but continued to resist the cost and responsibility of car ownership. The question arose from family and friends when they learnt we were expecting our first child, and occasionally when number two was announced. Third time round, no-one asked any more; it was clear a life on two wheels was possible in this unique cycling city, even with a family of five!
We progressed from a trailer and bike seats to balance bikes and first pedals. Nothing beats the swell of pride when you see your child riding independently, demonstrating a control of their bike far beyond what you achieved yourself at the same age. Balance bikes are a incredible invention; I cannot recommend them enough. They made the transition to a pedal bike effortless. At four, our eldest daughter was cycling short trips of up to five miles off-road; at five we introduced some on-road sections.
Until this point, although I had been a member of Camcycle for about 15 years and had spent several years volunteering on the newsletter, I had never truly appreciated the importance of high-quality cycle infrastructure for all ages and abilities. Our daughter is an extremely competent rider and pretty street-smart for her age, but would rather enjoy the view than concentrate on potential hazards like car doors opening or tourists with cameras stepping into the road. She’s a bit too fast to share pavements with vulnerable pedestrians and a bit too slow to be stuck in front of impatient commuters on narrow on-road cycle lanes. Wide, segregated and protected cycle paths allow us both to enjoy our journey, giving me a break from shouting nervous instructions from behind and her a chance to chat about what she notices on the way.
I’ve also realised that high-quality space for cycling is an issue of social justice and equality. Around a third of households in Cambridge don’t own a car or van and yet the planning for new developments is still far too often centred around the needs of motor vehicles.
Designing liveable streets and safe routes for cycling and walking helps to create a more welcoming city, encouraging people of all ages and abilities to travel on foot and by bike, thereby reducing congestion, air pollution and levels of obesity.
My vision for Cambridge is that my children can grow up able to take advantage of the freedom they’ve experienced as they’ve learnt to ride their pedal bikes, a freedom to travel which should be available to them right across the city in which they live, not just in a few protected areas like the Busway path and the forthcoming Chisholm Trail. In my new role, I’d like to build on the amazing work of Roxanne and Camcycle’s passionate group of members and volunteers to share more widely what the charity has learnt over the last 23 years and help create a vision for an inspiring cycling future. Cambridge is a wonderful city to live and cycle in, but I’d like to help make it even better!