Hubbub innovates through small-scale community campaigns. We learn fast, fail cheap and adapt rapidly. Some campaigns fly whilst others don’t get off the ground. The question that Hubbub constantly seeks to answer is how can you take those that work to scale to help other communities?

This is the conundrum we are facing with a Community Cycling Hub, established in East London. The ambition was to explore whether we could encourage women, particular from the Muslim community, to cycle more.

Cycling is fun, good for physical and mental health, saves money and reduces air pollution. However, some groups cycle less than others despite wanting to start. The Sustrans 2020 Cycling for Everyone Report found that in the UK, 36% of women and 55% of people from ethnic minority groups who don’t currently cycle, would like to start.

To understand this, Hubbub funded research predominantly with Bangladeshi and Somali women in Tower Hamlets. This revealed a host of barriers including safety, access to bikes, cultural challenges, lack of role models and poor infrastructure.

What did we do?

A new cycling hub was established in July 2021, in partnership with Sustrans, housing association Poplar Harca, and London Borough of Tower Hamlets, using an empty shop on a busy high street in Poplar. The hub offered residents the opportunity to borrow bikes, learn to ride, access repair services and receive general advice all at no cost. The Hub proved incredibly popular. In the hub’s 24 operational days, it ran 41 learn to ride and cycling skill sessions and organised 11 guided rides including family and women-only groups. 445 people benefitted from the sessions with 151 bikes loaned and 182 repaired.

Encouragingly the Hub reached a new cycling audience. Over a third of people had never previously been on a bike and nearly a quarter were lapsed cyclists. 82% of people using the services were women and 86% were from an ethnic minority background. Their cycling experience was overwhelmingly positive with benefits including feeling more confident, happier, healthier and able to explore nature. The full impact report is available here.

Jahura’s Story

Jahura had never ridden a bike before coming to the hub, she had always thought “I'd love to [cycle], but that's not me". The hub provided a welcoming and supportive space to take her first tentative pedals, her confidence grew quickly and she was soon loaning the free bikes with her friends so they could practice their cycling skills in a local park together. After one ‘social ride’, Jahura said “my face and cheeks were actually hurting because I was smiling so much. I was so happy.”

What did we learn?

The campaign delivered environmental benefits, strengthened community ties and reached a diverse audience. However, it raised a fundamental question: How can we retain the service and expand to other locations? Unfortunately, there is no one simple answer but Hubbub has learned the following about how best to scale these types of activities.  

1) Allow local groups to flourish

Most successful campaigns are down to astonishing local people and organisations who have the necessary skills, connections, authenticity (and often pure stubbornness) to make things happen. Without them even the strongest ideas won’t land. Hubbub seeks to secure the resources that allow these groups to flourish, enabling us to concentrate on what we do best which is design, branding, marketing, behaviour change and links to corporate funds.

2) Build a national identity

The UK is full of incredible local initiatives doing similar things but with slightly different names or identities. Whilst understandable, this misses the opportunity to create a national movement, it reduces opportunities for sharing skills and makes it difficult to secure funding from large companies. Bringing these activities under one over-arching brand helps to overcome these barriers. The power of Hubbub’s Community Fridge Network is that it allows local organisations to meet the requirements of their local community whilst operating under one banner with a core set of principles.

3) Business can drive national change

There are a growing number of businesses that have a genuine commitment to shift the UK to a more sustainable path. Many of these companies want to deliver change within communities but don’t have the resources to build links with the disparate local groups who are best placed to serve their area. With the Community Fridge Network and Community Calling, Hubbub has been able to act as a conduit between the national ambition of companies and the differing requirements of local communities.

4) Use the power of stories

Bringing community schemes together around a core set of principles enables data to be captured at a national level. This provides a strong narrative of interest to policy-makers, companies and media. The profile of Community Fridges resulted in it being featured in a Co-op funded live advert during Coronation Street. This raised interest in the approach resulting in more fridges being established, an increase in sharing of surplus food and a greater number of users.

5) Share Learning

A national movement allows knowledge and experience to be shared. It also supports innovation. With the cycle hub in Tower Hamlets we have successfully tested the impact of crowd-funding. The knowledge generated through this campaign can be shared with others enabling them to refine and improve the process.

Hubbub will be using these learnings to assess how we can best support the existing Community Cycling Hub and expand it to other communities. It will be challenging, but we will give it our best shot as we are convinced the approach will deliver significant benefits to hard-pressed communities across the UK. If you’re interested in collaborating on this please get in touch at [email protected].

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