This chapter explores early learning from the Free Bikes for Children pilot projects, including key findings and areas for consideration. It should be recognised that some of the challenges and themes will already be areas of learning and discussion within the pilot scheme, due to regular reflection, risk registers and discussion around progress with each project.
The ten pilot projects were set up to test ways of delivering free bikes to school age children, to promote and support active travel and reduce inequalities. Each project takes a different approach to delivering free bikes – including through community hubs, school clusters and community organisations, through bike fleets, libraries, free subscriptions, loans and ownership. At the time of this interim report, pilot projects were in the early stages.
There were advantages of each approach. An ownership model could support young people to develop responsibility, a sense of ownership and trust. Loan, subscription, fleet or library options could encourage ongoing engagement and longer term relationships.
Learning over time about the loan or free subscription model would be useful to help inform future approaches, as some were unsure about how they could use this approach and how it would be managed. Projects would also welcome sharing approaches to eligibility criteria, to build consistency and collectively agree an approach.
Working in partnership is important for the pilot projects. Partners helped projects to access their target group of young people and families, promote the project, generate referrals and provide knowledge about levels of need. Schools have proven particularly useful partners for understanding need and targeting young people, as have community based organisations.
Procurement and distribution
Together, the pilot projects aimed to procure approximately 2,627 bikes. Approaches included purchasing new bikes, purchasing recycled bikes and refurbishing bikes within the pilot project. All of the projects were conscious of quality and safety, opting for higher quality bikes that would last, withstand regular use, and combat any perceived stigma associated with receiving a free bike. A few projects noted that there were differing needs in rural and urban areas – for example with people in rural areas requiring mountain bikes to make full use of their bike.
Lessons learned in procuring new bikes included:
- Liaising directly with manufacturers worked well and enabled negotiation on price, model and delivery.
- Buying bikes that required assembly could be substantially cheaper. However it did mean that the project needed to invest time in assembly. It would be useful to analyse the cost of this time, to establish whether there can be a real saving in this approach.
- It took time for new bikes to be delivered, due to demand for bikes and challenges in the supply chain globally. This made it more difficult to match supply and demand flexibly.
- Local suppliers could often respond more quickly, but for smaller orders.
- Projects had to balance choice for young people with efficient procurement.
Projects which were procuring recycled bikes found that having trusted local suppliers of recycled or refurbished bikes as a project partner could be a real benefit.
Most projects also offered a safety package – a helmet, lock, lights and bell. Equipment such as waterproof clothing, gloves and a rain cover helped to enable all weather cycling, and storage of the bike outdoors. Projects provided locks to minimise risk of theft, but some found that young people had challenges around safe storage, particularly in flats.
Maintenance of the bikes was also central to most projects, to ensure ongoing and safe use. Approaches to maintenance, and associated costs, varied significantly and projects were at early stages in terms of learning about maintenance.
Identifying and targeting eligible children and young people
Pilot projects developed their own approaches to identifying and targeting children and young people who could not afford a bike. This included focusing on areas of high deprivation, eligibility for free school meals or universal credit, wider life challenges or additional support needs, or children identified as needing a bike for Bikeability training in upper primary school. Projects found that working with schools to target eligible young people worked well, despite schools experiencing significant pressure over the pilot time period.
Most projects expect to deliver some adaptive bikes within their pilot. All projects were keen to support young people with a range of needs. However, a few felt that their model meant that they were unable to offer adaptive bikes. Projects were largely at early stages in exploring needs with schools. One project experienced very high demand for adaptive bikes from schools through grant applications.
Project leads and partners found it challenging to predict how many young people would need an adaptive bike, and the type of bike required. Projects also found that it was important to think about storage – as adaptive bikes are usually larger – and how and where young people would use adaptive bikes which cannot always be used on the road.
Early feedback from families
From a very small number of early interviews – with two young people and two parents - participants were happy with the process of receiving a free bike and felt the bikes were good quality. The young people found the bikes helped them to spend more time outside, meet with friends, spend less time on screens and sleep better. Importantly, both parents indicated that the bike their child received would probably last them one to two years. Further work understanding the longevity of bikes for children and young people would be useful, to help understand how to manage the process of children growing out of their bikes in a sustainable way.
Next steps for the evaluation
- The final evaluation report is due in September 2022. Fieldwork for this report will include:
- An interview with the lead for the newly established project – March 2022
- 10 interviews with project leads towards the end of their project – spring/ summer 2022
- 18 interviews with project partners – spring/ summer 2022
- 46 interviews with children, young people and families – spring/ summer 2022
- An online survey of children, young people and families (appended).
The discussion guides with children, young people, parents and carers were piloted as part of this interim report. We suggest that the parent and carer discussion guide is slightly amended to include a question exploring what would have happened without the Free Bikes scheme, probing on whether the young person would have had access to a bike, what options the family had for acquiring a bike, and what impact these options would have had on the household.
Some issues with home storage of bikes arose from the early discussions with children and young people. We suggest slightly amending the online survey to specifically ask how easy it is to store the bike, with space for commentary on what works and what doesn’t in this regard.
The discussions guides with project leads and partners for the interim phase focused strongly on project set up and approaches. We suggest developing the focus on safety and sustainability to allow for in-depth exploration of approaches to assembly and maintenance – including the detail of the approach, who is undertaking this and the qualifications of these staff – and sustainability – in terms of how long a bike would be expected to ask, how often a bike could be refurbished, and approaches and costs of refurbishing the bikes when they are returned (as applicable to each project).
A key element of next steps will include developing an understanding of the cost and value of each approach. At interim report stage most pilot projects were in the very early stages of project set up or delivery. Learning about real costs was limited, and understanding of the value of different approaches will be developed as part of the final report. Some early work was undertaken to develop a cost framework to ensure that costs can be understood in a consistent way across projects, for the final report.
The approach for understanding costs and value will include exploring:
- direct costs per bike
- direct costs for the wider bike package (such as helmet, lock, lights, bell, gloves and waterproofs)
- associated costs with identifying eligible families, raising awareness, distributing the bike and supporting use of the bike
- ongoing maintenance costs.
The approach will also explore the impact of approaches which enable multiple users per bike – such as bike fleets and libraries – and the impact of recycling bikes within the project once children and young people no longer need them.
The approach to understanding costs will also explore the value of each approach – for example the benefits of providing certain types of equipment, certain types of support, or certain levels of maintenance. The approach will not directly compare individual projects, which are very different, but will understand the costs and value of different approaches to providing free bikes for school age children who cannot afford them.
A tailored approach will be taken to understanding the cost of providing adaptive bikes. These costs vary widely, but understanding needs, cost and value will be important, as a key reason for not being able to afford a bike may be that a young person has additional needs which require a bespoke bike.
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