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Step up to net zero

Tabitha is Free Wheel North's Step Up to Net Zero Coordinator, a placement delivered by Circular Glasgow and Glasgow Chamber of Commerce.

AI generated image of a canal-side building in Maryhill, powered by renewables

I’m two months into my role as Net Zero Coordinator at Free Wheel North, a position set up by Glasgow City Chambers through their Step Up to Net Zero programme. I write this from the office on the Green, overlooking the cycling track and various bikes available to those living with varying disabilities and abilities, including side-by-side tandems, gokarts, wheelchair bikes and hand crank cycles. The site is a vision of possibilities for urban spaces if infrastructure was designed with everyone in mind, not just standardised cycle lanes that lack representation beyond the average two wheel bike.

My time so far at the organisation has made clear that their environmental impact is relatively low. The Cycling Centre at Glasgow Green consists of an outdoor cycle track nestled between an orchard, renovated shipping containers transformed into our offices, storage and a cafe. Energy usage is minimal and activities at Free Wheel North enable people to enjoy the outdoors, to have fun cycling and connect with each other in the fresh air. 

There are a few areas of focus during my placement; net zero, circularity and waste management. Each aim is already embedded into the values and work at Free Wheel North and so the foundation is already set for my own work in the team. I created an environmental policy for the organisation rooted in the ongoing work carried out and by connecting them with a number of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, fit them into the wider picture of positive social and environmental actions.

Net Zero 

Net zero is a significant part of an organisations’ environmental journey, but it’s often merely used as a buzzword that can easily be misused and misrepresented. In a nutshell, net zero means the amount of greenhouse gases we put into the atmosphere, like carbon dioxide and methane, must be balanced by the amount we take out of the atmosphere. The UK should legally be working towards net zero by 2050. For organisations, this could take many forms, and for Free Wheel North exploring renewable energy technologies is part of the journey. An ongoing drive for behavioural change and gradual cultural shifts is a valuable step towards net zero through necessary collective action. The organisation supports people to choose active travel over cars by galvanising their independence and confidence by offering a safe and welcoming place to practise cycling and experience a renewed way of travelling around the city. 

The Whitehouse, Free Wheel North’s site in Maryhill, is the oldest building in the area. It’s a beautiful stone building that has taken a variety of roles throughout history, including a dooket, a pub and a lock-keeper’s home. The Whitehouse is currently an important hub in the local area, hosting weekly community meals and art classes. Once renovated, operations will extend to a cafe, event space, community engagement site and alternative energy centre. The Whitehouse is picture perfect but practically, old stone walls cause major drafts, so any heat generated in the building quickly escapes outside. As part of our journey towards net zero, we are undertaking plans to fund renewable technologies and adequate insulation to demonstrate the value of retrofitting existing buildings. 

Circularity and Waste Management

One of the issues Free Wheel North is currently facing is the abundance of disused bikes we have in storage across the city. We are fortunate to have a brilliant volunteer mechanic who takes care of all of the bikes he can, but one invaluable person doesn’t reach the capacity to maintain them all. So many are left in disrepair. The organisation is committed to waste reduction and aims to keep all of its bikes in circulation by maintaining them. My work with Free Wheel involves connecting with other cycling organisations or aspiring bike mechanics in order to advance practices of circularity for the current track and for any future endeavours.

Community Engagement

Collaboration is essential to the success of Free Wheel North. Beneficiaries are regularly asked for feedback on services, including various disabled groups of all ages, as a way to ensure that goals of mobility justice continue to be considered. Mobility justice, at its core, means that everybody has equal choices in how they move. For example, relying on a private car due to disability because public transport or cycling infrastructure is inaccessible, is an issue of mobility justice. This is why, as well as speaking to those who use the organisation’s services, Free Wheel North advocates for active travel in urban areas across scales. This includes connecting to other groups within the Wheels for Wellbeing, a network that aims to remove barriers to cycling, contributing to City Council stakeholder engagement on prospective urban infrastructural changes, and hosting outreach programmes to ensure disenfranchised voices are heard. 

I feel grateful to have caught a glimpse of the impact Free Wheel North have had on the thousands of people who feel more confident to cycle because of their services, to have discussed how cities would look if only we prioritised people over cars, and to think about the future in terms of our impact on the environment we live and rely upon every day.


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