In 2007 I was manager of Bristol Vocational Services, a team of NHS clinicians who supported people with mental health conditions to access and maintain work. We were a team of professional pioneers who were very passionate about the role of employment and meaningful occupation in a person’s recovery.
When we were first set up most staff were cyclists already however I was not, I would use my car to commute and to go to meetings and appointments.
Our manager at the time was a pioneer of electric bikes and wanted to support a scheme to introduce electric bikes into the thrust for staff to use whilst they are on the job. I met Simon from Sustainable Travel Solutions and he introduced the team to the bikes.
The team were reluctant at first, how could they think of transferring from cars or a normal bike to an electric bike – oh the shame of that! However as soon as they started to use the bikes, and could see how much mileage they could cover, they soon changed their minds. Also the design of the bikes helped with the kudos and the fact that the hills of Bristol would no longer be a problem was a big selling point.
I was persuaded to get out of my Volvo V70 and then we were all using the bikes.
The results were astounding. Staff reported a direct effect on their general wellbeing and motivation. When you are in the business of supporting people to be motivated and engage in new choices or activities in their life, it is very important to have staff who are motivated themselves and positive in their outlook. Staff sickness levels were also low in our team compared to others.
The green nature of the bikes is hard to ignore and is a must to celebrate. We had no claims for fuel or parking charges to reimburse to staff, STS provided us with Carbon Emission Saving Certificates annually showing the Trust’s results from staff not using cars any more PLUS by using the bikes – the lease costs were less than the amount the Trust was paying the staff previously for using their cars – so the Trust made direct savings as well.
It was easy for staff to be on time, as they never suffered with parking issues and traffic jams, and the people who we were supporting really valued this. This resulted in efficiency gains and we were able to visit one extra client each day as we could travel quicker around our patch. Service users were also interested in the bikes and this often prompted the initiation of a conversation, which is very helpful for lots of people who are struggling with their mental health.
In terms of any breakdown (which was rare, due to a constant strive to improve the model that we leased) then Sustainable travel would be available on call out. Simon’s commitment to ensure that the scheme worked for us as an NHS community service was infectious.
Also the culture of our team was affected, the bikes became a part of what we did. Not only in relation to the well-being and the motivation, but also our connection with the local community. The job required staff to be aware and have extensive knowledge of local job opportunities, employers, colleges, volunteering opportunities and any activities that may benefit the people who we were working with. Being on a bike enables you access to that info and experience all the time, which was hugely beneficial to service users. Our mobility affected the quality of the service that were able to provide across the city. We really could travel anywhere to reach anyone in our commissioned areas. The bike became a part of our team identity, and it was easy to spot where we were for a team meeting, because the outside of the building look like a scene from Amsterdam!
What are the challenges? Bad weather. But then we all got used to that, made sure that we had the right equipment/clothing and rallied to get change facilities at different work bases.
The original service that we all worked in has now been recommissioned and is provided by a charity, however, 10 years on AWP still continue to use the bikes every day to visit service users, especially those of us who are still working for the NHS. Me personally, my bike is still essential to the success of my working day, and the support from Sustainable Travel Solutions enables me to continue commute and travel easily around Bristol providing NHS services in Bristol.
Avon & Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust