Elaine Skinley is the 2023 winner of the ‘Keith Fergus Annual Achievement’ Award. We spoke to Elaine about how it feels to be recognised, her experiences delivering Bikeability Scotland training in Shetland, and how an e-bike has extended her own cycle adventures.

Elaine has been teaching children to cycle since 2004 when she first started as a Road Safety Officer with the Shetland Islands Council. She is based in Lerwick but travels all over Shetland to all of the Islands’ schools.

photo of Elaine

The Bikeability Scotland award is not only in recognition of Elaine’s long-term involvement in schools on-road cycle training, but just as significantly, her commitment to personal and professional development, ensuring the programme in Shetland has continued to evolve, and no more so than in the last 12 months, with the development of new experiences and opportunities for instructors and pupils alike.

I had no clue it was coming. I’m just completely shocked. It's an honour, especially now with Keith's name on it because he did such a lot for cycling in East Renfrewshire. He was my tutor for my BSIT (Bikeability Scotland Instructor Trainer) course. I don't know if he knew he was ill at the time, but we certainly never knew. He was such a good tutor and it was such a shock last year when we found out.

I probably should have been shouting about it for years because we are the only local authority that has done on road cycle training for 20 years. I probably should have been shouting but I don’t. I just keep doing what I'm doing. It's my job and that's what I'm here to do.

When I started this job just over 19 years ago, I was actually employed as a School Travel Plan Coordinator. It was about six months after I'd started that the police were getting busy doing other work, because it used to be the police that did it [Cycling Proficiency]. They wanted somebody in the council to do the cycle training, so they gave it to me.

I don't think I'd been on the bike for years. I'd helped my two boys learn to cycle when they were younger, and they did their Cycling Proficiency at school. But having to run it, you just think, “oh geez, what am I supposed to do here?” A few years later, they wanted something for the younger pupils, so I started doing some stuff for them as well. It just grew arms and legs.

I can remember years ago when I was going into the town one night. There was one of the pupils cycling on the road and she was doing everything perfectly and I was just so proud to see that. She was so confident, happily cycling in amongst the traffic. That's why I like doing what I do.

They're all keen to be there. They all seem to like it. You never have any problems. I've never had any problems. I've certainly never stopped anybody or had to stop anybody doing it. They can cycle. You’ve just got to make them aware of where they should be, and why they should be there, and why not to do it a different way.

photo of ElaineIt was in lockdown. I took the electric bike and went out. The roads were so quiet. It was just brilliant fun. I love going on the bike. If I didn't have the electric bike, I wouldn't have been able to go on a normal bike. My knees just wouldn't have done it.

They say it's cheating, but it's not. I still have to peddle. It helps me because my legs can't do it. That's why I got an e-bike, so that I can keep doing it. Anybody that says they can’t go on a bike, they are the ones that I would try and encourage to use an e-bike because quite often you meet folk who say, “I used to go cycling, but I'm not able to now.” And it's like, “no, come and try this”.

Before I had my knee done, I would go regularly do 15, 20 miles. From where I live there's a place, Fladdabister where it is just gorgeous. I love going there. It's just amazing because you can just switch your brain off and go. If you have any worries or anything, then you just forget about them. You're just there cycling along in this beautiful scenery. Just looking out at the sea and if the sun is shining and the wind isn't blowing, then it's just amazing. You could just go for hours.

I've done it for 20 years, but Active Schools do a lot as well. So it's not just me. They do most of it now. This year with me getting my knee replacement, I haven't been able to do any cycle training because I'm still recovering. So they do most of it now.

When I first started 20 years ago, we had 33 schools. I found a spreadsheet and it has the eight or nine weeks from the Easter holidays to the summer holidays. And for each of those weeks I had to do a spreadsheet and note which school I was at and which day so that we could get them all done.

We didn't do them all in one year. We did them in a three-year rolling program. Some of the bigger schools like the two in Lerwick and Scalloway. They had enough P6s, and we did them every year. And then the rest are all smaller schools, like, Urafirth or the island schools. They didn't have enough pupils, so we did the P5,6,7s every third year, so every pupil got to do it if they wanted to.

I've never thought how many I did It's always over 200 bairns doing Level 2 on road cycle training every year. What's 20 times 200? 4,000. Wow. Holy moly. And that's just Level 2.

It makes you feel old when somebody says, “you did my cycle training”. Especially when they get to S6, because we do a young driver initiative when they get to S6. So quite a lot of them are coming up and saying, “you did my cycle training, and I was your JRSO (Junior Road Safety Officer)”. It makes you proud as well because they remember you, hopefully fondly. I'm never brave enough to ask.

It's been an honour and I've just absolutely loved doing it. It's been brilliant fun. I'm thrilled to get it and achieve it, especially with Keith's name on it as well. It makes it a bit more special.

Photography by Sophie Whitehead.
Music by Birds for Scale.