I am writing this on the 19.55 Virgin Pendolino Service back to London Euston after a productive, enthusing and very grand day out up in Manchester. I can still feel the hurriedly purchased and consumed 6″ Chicken Tikka Sub with 0,4L of Cola sitting stodgily in my stomach after a seemingly sedentary day of sat down travel. Such a sluggish feeling is quite at odds about what I was up in Manchester to discuss. I was there on the invitation of Helen Frost, a microbiology PhD student in the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Manchester, and, crucially here, a run-commuter. Helen first contacted me just after we released the results of the run-commuting survey, with a request. She wondered if I had any advice for her as she was in the process of approaching the university about establishing a run-commuting strategy. I was enamored with the idea. A couple of emails and a Skype call later, and before you know it, the university were as equally taken by the idea and I was invited on-board as a quasi-consultant.
Much time has passed since then but I was eagerly awaiting this first meeting where I could really get to grips with what this scheme may be and how the ideas I raise in my research may be adopted or utilised by those on the front line of transport provision. However, I was also a little anxious. As far as I am aware, this is the first university, potentially first large organisation (if you know of any, then please do tell me), in the world to attempt to introduce an institution-wide policy on run-commuting. This is uncharted territory and I have been drafted in as the ‘expert’. Whilst I have never doubted the value or quality of my previous run-commuting research, I was well aware it was a pilot study for what is turning out to be a much much larger study; its findings were only ever indicative as there is so much more to know. But this was far too good an opportunity to turn down. It is not often you are the gifted the chance to play a part in a ‘first’, to put into practice your recommendations, or to experiment in such a way.
I was also aware that I may be able use the project as a case study in the PhD, although I hadn’t yet worked quite how it would fit into the rest of the research (something I think I solved on the journey up to Manchester this morning – the value of time travel hey!).
The meeting however, was great. Every one of us in that room came out excited about the prospect of a run-commuting scheme. The university already have some extremely successful cycling measures in place, so the assembled team really knew what they were doing and what to do to make any potential run-commuting scheme, hopefully, a similar success. It was really pleasing to see that the whole thing began from the basis of collaboration (I always think that anything aimed at active travel is too difficult to categorise, departmentalise and isolate; they tick many boxes on many registers so should always be approached collaboratively). It was an engaged conversation between a sustainable travel manager, a transport planner, members of the sports development team, Helen as the run-commuter, and myself, as the run-commuting researcher. The meeting began with an admission that for most people in the room, run-commuting had never featured on their radars before, so the partnership was certainly a symbiotic one, as those of us engaged with run-commuting, have little experience of actualising schemes, plans and measures.
Then came a series of crucial question that I’m so pleased were asked: “Do we think a run-commuting scheme is something we should be doing, what should its objectives be, and does it compete with any other schemes already in place?”. Only by asking such critical questions, by thinking through it properly, are you taking something into serious consideration. I was even more pleased when the replies of “yes definitely!, “to make it easier to run-commute and get more people doing it”, and “no, it’s only complementary” were given. The next 90mins featured a whole host of suggestions about what the scheme could look like and how it could be implemented. Responding to the research on run-commuting, suggestions of run-buddies, cycle escorts, free bags, improved lockers, better promotion of showers, free breakfasts, league tables, prizes, run-commuting champions, run-commuting clubs, t-shirts, identity branding and general awareness raising were all suggested. Ideas oozing from all corners of the room.
It was decided, however, to begin the scheme with a relatively low-key run-commuters and potential run-commuters lunch in March. This however, is far from disappointing and a strategy I whole-heartedly back. It is a testament to the fact the the team behind this want to do it properly. They aren’t interested in doing something big and quick for it to fade away soon after. The point of this lunch is to find the run-commuters at the university, find those who may want to do it and to really understand their opinions, motivations, barriers and desires. From this, a steering group will be set up to report to as the ideas emerging from that event begin to develop, thoughts focussed, and scheme chiseled. This also allows for everything to be monitored, considered and implement properly so that in Spring 2016, the scheme can be launched with a fizz and a bang that doesn’t fizzle out.
Coincidentally, this timescale fits perfectly with that of my PhD, so the potential for this to really inform my work is growing day by day. But that’s enough excitement for one day, I will save how I hope to study and use this project for another post. So much more to come from this project and I will be providing periodic updates over its course so stay tuned.