Active Travel: What is an Active Travel Champion? And could you already be one?

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By Nikki Moorhouse

Every year Transition takes part in and hosts various active travel initiatives in and around St Andrews.  Almost every active travel project that we deliver is supported, to some extent, by Active Travel Champions. These are individuals whom help us deliver our projects.  They get involved in our work and form part of the solution, by reaching out and positively engaging with our local communities.  Further, they have the ability to showcase the benefits of our work, advocating for sustainable practices and principles more generally. To this end they are essential and we rely upon them. This statement may sound a little cliché.  Although it’s not.  Instead it’s a fact- we really do need them!

Active Travel Champions (AT Champs) come from all walks of life and with varied experiences.  Some may be well skilled and highly experienced in their chosen outputs.  Others may have limited knowledge and are seeking out opportunities to learn.  One common factor amongst many of our AT Champs is that they bring with them drive, desire and interest to engage with our projects. It is this combination of new ideas, targeted effort and energy that drive the delivery of the goals we set out for the projects. You can read all about our different AT projects here.

Defining our projects

As much as possible the programmes we operate under active travel should be defined by the needs of our community. There are many practical and longstanding examples of this, such as BikePool, which set out these clearly defined aims.  So too do we have projects which have been organically grown in response to the needs of the community at a particular point in time. One such recent initiative is the buddy mental health walks.  After the first lockdown in 2019 came to an end it was clear that many people had been affected by isolation, feeling cut off and limited from their wider social circles.  In response some active travel champions stepped forward and set up a walking programme to help alleviate the stresses and strains of lockdown, reaching out to anyone who needed companionship.  You can read more about this local project, based in St Andrews and find out how you can get involved here.  If you are a staff member at the university you may also be interested in the walking scheme called Wee Walk Once a Week (WWOAW). Please note that due to COVID there are limitations on this presently. But do keep a close eye on this, as the university start to adapt their approach to WWOAW.

If you have ever considered there is a need for a particular project or targeted interventions around active travel in St Andrews we would love to explore this with you. Do not hesitate to get in contact with us a transition@st-andrews.ac.uk; We are always interested to hear your ideas and thoughts around how we can make sustainable travel and transport more accessible for all.

Why is it important to promote active travel champions

These are many benefits to supporting and promoting AT Champions. Individuals that step forward to help are provided with various training, learning and development opportunities.  As just one example, in the last twelve months alone we have put six people through their Velotech (Professional Bike Mechanic) courses.  The volunteers feel empowered by their contributions, positive actions and newly acquired skill sets. So too do recipients gain as these get passed on. Equally the town and surrounding areas stand to benefit.  For example by making cycling accessible and easy to carry out we are helping minimise congestion and pollution within the town. Did you know that recently, the University of St Andrews was re-awarded its cycling friendly campus award? They received a distinction. This accolade would have been much harder to attain alone. It was the supporting work of the active travel champions within BikePool and further afield that made this happen. Overall, much of the work that goes on around active travel helps contributes towards a greater cause too. Namely that of the long term sustainability of the planet.  

How do AT Champs contribute during COVID ?

During these really trying time it’s more significant than ever that we have our active travel champions to fall back on, even if we can only deliver a service in a more limited capacity right now.

Like many faced with COVID restrictions our active travel champs have learnt to adapt. For now most have opted to stay in contact online. This is proving to be a valuable space that provides connection, solidarity and  friendship in what are unique and often uncertain times. Further, the online portals have become a busy hub for knowledge sharing and engagement.  The ability to share in new ways is turning what may otherwise be a defeating situation into a more encouraging and sustaining one.

What’s next from Active Travel Champs

In February we will launching our very own active travel video, showcasing some of the real life champs.  So too we will be releasing a series of podcasts with individuals from our projects, to find out more about them and their motivation(s) to get involved. Please look out for these in the coming months.

Lastly, you may have noticed that Transition are currently updating their smarter travel webpages. A dedicated Active Travel Champions page will soon be released. So too will information shortly be published around a local air quality monitoring project that is being carried out by a group of active travel champions. If you are interested to find out more about the issues of air pollution we recommend this free short air quality course.

Anyone can join our network of active travel champions.  It doesn’t matter what your previous experiences are just that you have an interest and want to contribute to making a difference. If you would like to become a part of any of our projects then make contact with transition@st-andrews.ac.uk.