Cycle Training Officer, Kirsty McDowall talks about finding herself through volunteering, feeling useful and the wow factor when it all works out.
In between work and everything, I'd always sort of tried to volunteer for things. I think working in the service industry and being brought up in a house with my mother, who was always keen to help out. [She was] always walking about with a black bin bag at the end of the night.
Between work and family life and everything, you sometimes move away from the person that you think you are, or you lose your me. And I always think that volunteering is quite a good way to find something that you want to do, something that you care about. It doesn't need to be connected to your work or it doesn't need to be connected to your family. It can just be absolutely anything. I did have a volunteering sized gap in my busy life. I guess I was sort of looking for something to do that was just about me.
My son was just about to go into primary school, and it had been very natural for me to pop him on the back of the bike. We were always riding our bikes. And I think when he was about to go to school, I realized that for a lot of people, it wasn't natural to ride their bikes. And then I started to look at what was happening round about and started noticing the queue of traffic in the morning - going in and out of the school.
I was aware of Bikeability Scotland. I don't actually know how, but I was just aware that it was a thing and started to look into it. Through the Cycling Scotland website I found out that it was delivered by local authorities. I contacted the local authority, who were very welcoming. The coordinator was like, "excellent, we've been speaking to the school, let's see how we can go about volunteering". It was probably the following February, that I did my Bikeability Scotland instructor course.
I was on a course with all teachers. Delivery was just like second nature to them, lesson plans, everything second nature to them. And I'm amongst them going, "all right, I can do all the bike stuff". But actually speaking to children. That bit filled with me dread. But it is actually the thing that I love. I never thought that I would really enjoy delivery as much as I do.
You get a nice amount of excitement and nerves before every session. Particularly session one when you've not done it over the winter period and then again when they go into Level 2 and you're going to be out on the road with them. You get a good level of nerves - just the right amount makes you excited and able to enjoy it and keep it upbeat for them as well.
It's lovely to hear their ideas and their priorities as well because I think you hear a lot of the adult voice. A lot of what we should be doing about climate change and what we should be doing about making small changes for our own lives. But actually, when you hear children talking about it, and sometimes they will say things that are a surprise to me. We were talking one day about the things that might happen if you were cycling to school and one girl started talking about speaking to the lollipop attendant and having that interaction with somebody else on the way to school. And it was highlighting the lovely benefit of active travel, which was something that you just don't always credit children to value.
I get a lot of joy when I see the kids out on their bikes in-between sessions. They say, "Hi, Kirsty", on the way past, or at Halloween when they come to the door and I'm the Bikeability lady. I always feel as if I've got to up my sweet game.
I feel useful, which I think is something. I feel as if I contribute to a thing that I'm good at instead of having to sign up for countless committees on the off chance that I might be useful at some point.
When everybody was just flowing around and everybody was doing everything naturally and they were all setting their pedals and they were all looking over their shoulders, it just felt like, wow. I put myself to be that eleven-year-old again and I thought, they're going to be doing that all their lives now. And it's became natural to them. I'm not a particularly sporty person. I enjoy my bike and I enjoy my bike to get around. It's been lovely to help kids along on their bikes that were pretty like me. They're not sporty. All they have to do is take part in the lesson, do it right, and then they've got that skill. They don't need to go faster; they don't need to get themselves into an attack position or beat their personal best.
It has been massively important because my background before was all in hospitality, working in events. I would not have looked at the role that I'm now in [at Cycling Scotland] and I wouldn't have known as much about the organisation. I wouldn't have been looking at job adverts and I wouldn't have done that if I hadn't volunteered.
I think my son does think that I actually am a Bikeability volunteer full time. That's the bit that he connects with, and he gets really excited when he sees me in his school playground. Which I think is just bonkers. And I know will stop at some point. But I think he imagines me out with a Bikeability instructor's vest on all the time.
Kirsty is a Bikeability Scotland volunteer in Renfrewshire.
Interested in becoming a Bikeability Scotland volunteer?
Would you like to be involved in helping to teach children to ride confidently and safely?
The first step is to contact your Bikeability Scotland Coordinator to find out if your local area needs volunteers.