The Five Year Mission
Braeside Street Maryhill June 2018
The Five-Year Mission to explore Strange New Worlds, such as Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales
Free Wheel North represents transformational and systemic change in society. During the pandemic we glimpsed a world that in a sense “closed down”, yet in another sense opened up, one in which open space and nature came back into people’s lives, where pollution and carbon emissions where radically reduced and one where the sounds of nature, bird song, for instance, returned to the urban realm. Spaces for people emerged, and neighbours found themselves closer to each other, physically and emotionally than before. Global connectivity declined, international flights were grounded, yet walking and cycling increased, and many people discovered their own local realm for the first time.
Yet Free Wheel North had been creating that cross-sectoral world already for some years, but only at the snail’s pace that institutional inertia allowed. “Cross sectoral” means considering mental health as a function of climate change, art as a function of public space design, transport as a function of health. The segregation of these functions within the conventional economic paradigm results in alienation, the meaningless of architecture and ultimately, the extreme loneliness that so many suffer from.
FWN’s solutions to this loneliness over the past 15 years have been as profound as they have been effective. We do not buy the narrative that individual humans need treatment, such as medication, to ease the pain. It is on the contrary the barriers, the systems, both physical and conceptual that have made us strangers to each other and the natural world.
The five-year mission is to continue to scale and grow the successful templates we have developed so far. The template for scaling is the Glasgow Green Cycling Centre. The Centre is radically inclusive, a kind of village in which people of all abilities, ethnic backgrounds, ages and experiences come together to enjoy the physical and social activity of inclusive cycling in a green space with a café and orchard. For years, the project has been transcending its boundaries through scaling and campaigning. It is too good an idea to contain. It reaches out in Glasgow, which FWN spans itself, Scotland by means of outreach and roadshows, throughout the UK, notably through the 50 locations represented by Wheels for Wellbeing and even internationally, through links made during the UCI Cycling World Championships (we have been invited to set up in Australia.)
The UCI Championships 2023 occasioned the biggest ever event at the Cycling Centre, organised by the National Lottery Community Fund. The Centre was highlighted as the kind of project embodying the legacy of the games, enlightened public space enhancing health, inclusion, equity and climate. The media in the from of the BBC, STV, national and local press, radio and the NLCF attended and disseminated this scaling up. Olympic cyclist Katie Archibald was there boosting the message. That it can be done, that cities and towns can undergo transformational change was proven during that August of 2023, when streets normally devoted to cars where for a few days devoted to cycling. It can be done overnight when the political will is present.
Yet limiting street transformation to elite events is not good enough. FWN has piloted Play Days for years, getting permission from Glasgow City Council to transform streets for a day into places for people One such day was in June 2018, on Braeside Street in Maryhill. A street normally blighted by rat run traffic between two main road was “closed” for an event that included games, dance, music, cycling, food and play. Neighbours normally isolated met each other for the first time.
Play is a fundamental human need, and not only for children; it is the means by which our brains grow and our spirits thrive, it is a way of connecting humans to each other and to the natural world. “Play days” sounds marginal, something recreational in between the serious business of the economy. But no, the cost of having no play is the tsunami of mental and physical health problems the world faces, the cost is climate meltdown because fossil fuels are expended instead of calories; the cost is in terms of human suffering and isolation; deprived of contact people forget how to interact.
The virtual world has intensified loneliness, despite its benefits, a consequence of digitisation is the reinforcement of mob mentality, where typically, kind and gentle people are targeted with impunity and anonymity. Avatars and fake profiles are created, words are put into the mouth of the victims, inciting hate. This is a matter for another FWN page (The fight for mental health justice).
The five-year mission of FWN is to address these cross sectoral matters in tandem; to bring about transformational change. Service delivery, actual boots on the ground projects are important, but without challenging the causes and systems that perpetuate suffering and without building alternative structures that conversely bring people together, activities and projects will be no more than palliative measures and outcomes weak. If on the other hand the priorities were ones of wellbeing, then the connections between communities would be real, rather than virtual. The cycling centre is real in that sense, play days are real, they bring people together.