At St Paul’s the mission includes bikes

A project begun at a Glasgow church to widen access for young people to bicycles has been chosen by the Scottish Government as a special pilot scheme which will now expand to benefit hundreds of local school pupils.

Scottish Government launch
St Paul's Youth Forum has been chosen as one of six pilot projects by the Scottish Government to offer free bicycles for school children who would otherwise not have access to one © Devlin Photo Ltd.

In partnership with the Rosemount Development Trust, St Paul's Youth Forum will receive funding to support children aged 8-16 from five local schools to get on two wheels.

Neil Young, who is a youth team leader at St Paul's Church of Scotland, writes about the new initiative and how it relates to the marks of mission:

Inspired by the Commonwealth Games

Have you watched any of the Olympics from Tokyo? If so, what is your favourite event? For me the cycling is always fascinating: the speed, the skill, the power and even the new…with BMX being part of the sport now. What about the legacy of the games? Will it affect normal people in the parishes?

In the months after the 2014 Commonwealth Games, a group of young people who hung out in our church were inspired. They had the opportunity to ride on the mountain bike track at Cathkin Braes, they cycled round the velodrome. But a few kids couldn't take part. They had never owned a bike and therefore had not learned to cycle.

Jesus said 'I have come that you may have life in all its fullness' (John 10:10). As a Priority Area congregation, people living in our parish face a number of different challenges; financial, health, skills. We were able to devise a plan that would make a little bit of impact. As a group we fundraised, and thanks to funding from Faith in Community Scotland, we created our first fleet of 10 bikes for our bike library.

This was to be a new concept where, just like a library where books are borrowed for a couple of weeks, we would do similar, with helmets and bike locks provided, but most of all, training and developing skills in bike maintenance. The young people decided it was to be called Blackhill on Bikes.

Over the last four years, through prayers, dedication and vision, the project has developed and grown. Initially a container was purchased to house a workshop and store for the bike library then, as people donated broken or unused bikes, trained mechanics worked with the young people to repair the equipment and then match the bike with someone who needed one, no matter what their background.

Young person outside the On Bikes site
The 'On Bikes' project which is based in Blackhill will now be expanded to support hundreds of pupils in the local area

Through school chaplaincy, word spread to the local secondary school and then to the neighbouring primary schools, with similar hubs being set up. We work ecumenically with our Roman Catholic primary helping to teach cycling and recycle bikes.

During Covid, we've had extra funding to provide 25 ebikes and 50 push bikes to key workers to enable them to get safely to work. As people flocked back to the streets on bikes we created safe bike lanes in our parish, with Glasgow City Council endorsing our work by installing 5km of new segregated bike lanes.

We were inspired by the congregation of Rothesey Trinity who aimed to ensure that every refugee child had access to a bike and helmet. So when the Government wanted to pilot their policy of giving every child in Scotland who can't afford a bike, a way to get one, we were very keen to put our hat into the ring.

Scottish Government pilot scheme

On Tuesday 17 August our church was the base for the launch of a new fund that will attempt to give every child access to a bike. Over the next year we will work with the five schools in our parish to enable over 300 children to get access to a bike. Using our bike library model, we will work to ensure that everyone has access to a brilliant bike- not just a rusty old one.

But what has this got to do with church? Surely this is just charity work? At St Paul's we see this differently. Our Session Clerk started a bike club in the basement of the church to help repair, maintain and encourage the use of bikes. We see bikes as a very missional activity. So much so, that we think that it fits in with at least three of the five pillars of mission.

To transform unjust structures of society - Ensuring that every child has access to a bike, tackling one of the injustices of child poverty with not just some bike that no one wants, but a brand new bike, just like their affluent friends.

What is more, teachers have said that children who cycle and walk to school are much more ready to learn, contributing to the attempts to close the attainment gap and challenging the structures that divide children as they grow. Cycling improves physical and mental health, and with teenage suicides on the rise we need to do everything we can to support our young people.

To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth - COP26 is on our doorstep. By providing a greener option of travel, young people have a free way to get about the city to events, church and friends. The people who are most affected by climate change are also the ones who are contributing the least to it. Fewer than 40% of households in our community have access to a car. Public transport is much poorer in our parish than in other more affluent areas.

We are working with young people to help bring around a shift in culture, discovering that cycling is the best way to get around for short distances. The hope is that families and friends will do so as well. As we approach COP 26 we recognise the changes that we need to make. As Christians, we must work to keep our beautiful planet safe!

To respond to human need by loving service - We're helping the most marginalised by giving them bikes. The loving bit is also how we interact with the young people and their families. We are not there to judge, but to listen, not to condemn, but to give people an opportunity to know that they are important, loved and special.

When all these are put together, it's clear to see that supporting cycling is a very Christian thing to do. These bikes will help our parish create a paradigm shift. Bikes are only one part of the change - infrastructure change is needed too. Have a look at our website to see the next part of our project! We continue to have young people with vision and old people dreaming dreams. Anything is possible with God.

Make a donation to Glasgow St Paul's Church of Scotland