'The reason cycling is so important is because it makes your world bigger'

Last week we were lucky enough to speak to Sarah Berry, a self-described "joyful travel campaigner" who does incredible work to make cycling accessible to all.

Sarah kindly donated her first bike to us to be rehomed with a refugee and we got to chatting about her cycling campaigning work and why she donated her bike to us. 

Read the interview below:

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Sarah Berry, I'm 30 years old and cycling is a relatively new part of my life. After learning to ride a bike one a TFL cycle confident course, I bought my first bike in 2020, the same day my local council announced a low traffic neighbourhood would be introduced in my area. I was petrified, but I told myself if I don't do this now, I'll never do it.

When did you hear of The Bike Project?

For much of my career I worked for an organisation whose mission was to help protect civilians in war zones, working with humanitarian and human rights organisations to push world powers to adhere to the rules of war and stop targeting civilians. Many of the friends and contacts I made during that time eventually became refugees themselves, ultimately finding it too dangerous to stay in their home country. So when I started getting involved in active travel advocacy, The Bike Project was one of the first organisations I came across -- naturally being drawn to an organisation that combined those two aspects of my life.

Why did you donate your bike to us?

The bike I donated was such a transformational part of my life. It changed the way I saw my city, my body, and my own capabilities. It made my life bigger, and I always imagined I'd keep it forever -- as a reminder of this remarkable time in my life. But the longer it spent in storage, not being used, the guiltier I felt. Ultimately I decided it was more important to enable someone else to experience that transformation than it was to have a memento.

Can you explain the work you do as a travel campaigner?

Since starting to ride myself, I've been passionate about advocating for other people to be able to experience the joy of cycling. One thing I noticed was that before I started riding, the gap between where I was and where I would need to be to match the people I saw riding out and about seemed totally unpassable. But once I started, I very quickly realised that the gap was much, much smaller than I realised. I wanted to speak to the people standing on the far side of the precipice, feeling like they couldn't possibly get to the other side, and be really candid with them about how easy it could be to build up the confidence and the skill. That's been the focus of my activism -- speaking to the people who want to ride but feel like they could never -- and being candid with them about the things that got me from one side to the other. I've been really blown away by the response, and the opportunities I've had to advocate for new cyclists.

Why do you think cycling and access to cycling is important?

I always find it hard to answer this question without sounding cliche, because cycling gives people all the things they say it does -- freedom, independence, agency, joy, fitness. If I had to sum it up in a way that sounded somewhat original, I guess I'd say that the reason cycling is so important is because it makes your world bigger. It gives you the ability to move around unencumbered, quickly and, with the right infrastructure, safely. And as a mode of transport, it allows for discovery. It's so much more porous than travel via car or public transport, because if you see something that looks interesting you can stop and check it out. Walking gives you the same, but the radius in which you can travel is so much smaller. But it also makes your world bigger because you get to really use your body for a functional purpose. As someone with a desk job this was so liberating. It felt so transformational to use my body to get me somewhere -- especially when that somewhere is far away.

What is your favourite cycling memory?

My favourite cycling memory is a seemingly very simple one. It was early in my time riding, while I was still getting my confidence up to do anything other than riding a bike in the park. It was a Sunday morning, and my partner was in the shower while I was drinking a coffee in bed. I was thinking how nice it would be if I could surprise him by having fresh croissants for breakfast ready for when he got out of the shower, but I knew there was no way I'd be able to walk to the bakery half a mile away and back before he was out of the shower. Then, without even thinking, I grabbed my bike and cycled there. I was there and back within 15 minutes. It was the first time I'd ever ridden on the road by myself, something I'd always been too terrified to do, but the convenience of the bike was so tempting that I'd done the thing I was scared of before I had the chance to be frightened. A couple of days later I cycled to Crystal Palace Park with a group of friends, 4 miles away. And from then on my rides just getting longer and longer.

Why do you think others should support The Bike Project?

Refugees are afforded so little freedom in the UK. They were generally afforded so little in their home countries. Having a bike gives them a little bit of that freedom back. But more importantly, it gives them agency. They get to have control over where they go and how they get there, without having to worry about cost. It's a small thing, but it can really make a difference to someone who has so little control over their own situation. Even if you don't have a bike to give, cash donations go a long way!

In a perfect world, how would refugees be supported in the UK?

I would love to see refugees simply welcomed and supported in the UK. An approach that favours trust and compassion rather than suspicion could go a long way. It's the way many communities across the UK already support the refugees in their neighbourhoods, but something the government can't seem to do.

Thank you Sarah for your bike donation and we are sure your old bike will be enjoyed thoroughly by its next owner.

Written on: 13 Mar 2022 | Author: Anya Jhoti

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