IN-DEPTH: Inverness enjoying a cycling revolution
On the streets of Inverness a quiet revolution has been taking place.
Increasingly, healthcare workers have been turning to pedal power to go about their daily business.
From GPs and care workers carrying out home visits to a community staff nurse for schools transporting scales and measuring equipment in a cycle trailer, more are using bikes as their mode of transport.
It has been made partly possible thanks to funding from Cycling Scotland for new folding and electric bikes, or e-bikes, while discussions are under way with other potential funders to provide cycles for several GP practices.
There are now hopes more people will follow the example of the health workers and cycling will become an everyday activity, including at work.
Cycling enthusiasts Mick Heath and Dr Katie Walter, a city GP, have been involved in campaigning to secure funding for cycling projects.
“The message I want to get across is that cycling is becoming much more mainstream,” said Dr Walter of the Cairn Medical Practice in Culduthel Road, where staff are taking up the chance to use newly-acquired practice bikes.
“It is often the fastest, greenest way of getting around town.
“A lot of people doing this would not have thought about cycling before.
“I would like it to become the norm in all workplaces for people to have access to e-bikes or normal bikes.”
She said to develop healthy communities, everyone needed to become more physically active and ditch the car.
“This is for the environment, to reduce carbon emissions and air pollution, as well as to increase physical and mental wellbeing,” she said.
Lindsey MacQueen, part of the school nurse team based at Highland Council’s headquarters in Glenurquhart Road, regularly gets on her bike and loads up its trailer with an array of equipment when visiting schools including Inverness Royal Academy, Millburn Academy and associated school groups.
The 46-year-old took up cycling after being diagnosed with non-epileptic attack disorder and notches up about 45 miles a week for work.
She also uses her bike for shopping and leisure outings.
“I was not very well last year and ended up having a lot of seizures,” said Mrs MacQueen, who was unable to drive for a while and needed another way to get around.
“I could sit at home and cry about it or embrace it as an opportunity.”
Although she subsequently regained her driving licence, she was determined to carry on cycling.
“It gives you clear head space and it is really good for your mental health as well as physical health,” she said.
“I get a lot of satisfaction out of it and I am more visible in the community which I think is a good role model for children and families.
“I am also such a stingy person I like the fact I am not spending that money on petrol!”
Mrs MacQueen, who has two children and is due to become a grandmother, also goes out cycling with her husband Angus, a keen cyclist.
“It is nice to find a new way of going out with your husband after so many years,” she said. “Now I have a trailer, we can go on picnics.”
Another health worker who uses pedal power during his working day is Gordon Rushworth, an advance pharmacist practitioner at the Cairn Medical Practice.
The 37-year-old was a keen cyclist and would commute from the Black Isle before having his children, aged three and five.
He now uses the practice e-bike to make home visits where practical.
“I can get across town quicker than if I was driving,” maintained Mr Rushworth who also said finding a car parking space could be difficult in areas such as the city centre or Crown.
“I would encourage more workers to cycle. It is a great thing. It is very easy to get around on it and access different places.”
He said the benefit of using an e-bike was that he did not arrive at appointments “puffed out and glowing”.
His colleague Yelena Clarke, a member of the practice’s administration team, has swapped her daily car journey to commute between work and her Muir of Ord home using the train and a folding e-bike.
Although she has to get out of bed about 15 minutes earlier every morning, she is delighted with the financial benefits.
“It is not as convenient as the car, but I must be saving about £50 a week in petrol,” said Mrs Clarke (35) who also extolled the health and environmental benefits.
“If I jump in the car and then I am working in the office for six hours, sometimes I hardly get a breath of fresh air all day.”
The push to get more healthcare workers on their bikes was initially boosted with an £8000 funding award from Cycling Scotland to Bikes and Trikes for Highland Home Carers, a partnership project between Highland Carers and the city’s Cairn Medical Practice as well as several community care trusts.
Mick Heath, who led the project, said the e-bikes had been a game-changer for home care professionals who use them to travel to and from home visits.
Following its success, further funding of £18,000 was awarded, enabling 14 new bikes to be distributed to nine medical practices for use by professionals such as GPs, occupational therapists and social workers.
It is now hoped there can be a third phase – depending on funds being identified and agreed.
“It is spreading the word that getting about on a bike is a good thing and it is a normal thing,” said Mr Heath, who is also co-founder of cycling charity Spokes For Folks, which arranges rides in trikes for elderly or isolated people.