Five years ago Fraser Johnston, frustrated by the lack of clubs available for young riders to join, decided to do something about it. He set up the Falkirk Junior Bike Club and organised its first session at a local school. “There was one aim for the session.” he tells us. “For the kids to want to come back the following week. It had to be fun.”
15 riders turned up. He can’t remember exactly how many of those came back the next week, but the club now has 150 members, another 150 on the waiting list and gets roughly three or four enquiries a week from prospective members. “We could hold sessions every day of the week,” Johnston explains. “The demand is there. We just need the volunteers.”
We paid a visit to Falkirk in late November to see for ourselves how a club in a town in central Scotland could do what many established clubs struggle to do and attract so many young riders. What we found was a club whose youth focus across the board and social outreach has borne incredible results.
Having outgrown two previous venues, the FJBC now uses Falkirk’s Callendar park for its regular Saturday and midweek sessions. All of these are delivered by their team of coaches who are themselves teenagers.
And this perhaps is the secret to their success, earning the club a place in the Cycling Weekly Awards of 2021. Ranging from 14 to 18 these coaches - all who have done their foundation courses - are closer in age to the riders and are therefore able to relate to them. “Right, listen up” we hear one of them shout. And he immediately has everyone’s attention. It’s like they’re learning from their mates, not from a figure of authority, their parents or a teacher.
Most of the coaches are from local schools, found by some outreach work the club did. 16-year-old Cameron Archibald is the first of the club’s members to become a coach himself, and more are expected to follow him and fill the gaps left by those who head off to university when they reach 18.
But the club hasn’t just successfully engaged with local youngsters, the council is fully onboard too. Last summer they joined forces to deliver a Holiday Hunger Programme, running sessions for over 400 children in deprived areas and giving them a free lunch. They’ve collected food for a local food bank, raised somewhere in the region of £20,000 for Strathcarron Hospice, and ran ride to school initiatives for their members through the year. They also delivered one of Transport Scotland’s Rock up and Ride pilot sessions which trains children up to ride before they get their free bike as part of the Scottish government's pledge to give a free bike to every school age child who can’t afford one.
And a few weeks ago they organised round three of the cyclo-cross national trophy.
Their success has been brought up by an MSP in Scottish parliament, they are regularly in the local press and remain pleasantly surprised by the local support they receive. At a recent event a wheelchair bound resident of the highrise flats that overlook the park approached them and simply said; ‘I love what you’re doing’ and handed over a cheque for £100.
It may have been a dull, wet November day when we visited, but the future’s bright in Falkirk.
We've included a feature-length story on Falkirk Junior Bike Club in Cycling Weekly magazine, in stores from Thursday, December 9. Subscribe online and get the magazine delivered to your door every week.
Having trained as a journalist at Cardiff University I spent eight years working as a business journalist covering everything from social care, to construction to the legal profession and riding my bike at the weekends and evenings. When a friend told me Cycling Weekly was looking for a news editor, I didn't give myself much chance of landing the role, but I did and joined the publication in 2016. Since then I've covered Tours de France, world championships, hour records, spring classics and races in the middle east. On top of that, since becoming features editor in 2017 I've also been lucky enough to get myself sent to ride my bike for magazine pieces in Portugal and across the UK. They've all been fun but I have an enduring passion for covering the national track championships. It might not be the most glamorous but it's got a real community feeling to it.
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