Celia Tennant: Inspiring heroes are everywhere

A local project that began with a spot of bicycle tinkering has changed lives and inspired a community, says Celia Tennant

Joseph Schooling is hugged by Michael Phelps, whom he beat at last months Rio Olympics. Picture: Getty Images
Joseph Schooling is hugged by Michael Phelps, whom he beat at last months Rio Olympics. Picture: Getty Images

Now the rush of finish lines crossed and the jubilation of medals won has subsided, a couple of stories from the Rio Olympics which did the rounds on social media have really stuck with me. There is a photograph of Laura Trott meeting Sir Bradley Wiggins when she was 12 after he had just won gold at the Athens Olympics – 12 years on she is the UK’s most successful female Olympian, having pedalled her way to four gold medals in London and Rio.

There was a similar story about Singaporean swimmer Joseph Schooling who met his hero, and most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps when he was 13. Schooling went on to beat Phelps in the 100m butterfly in the Rio pool, taking home Singapore’s only medal and setting an Olympic record in the process.

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What I love about these stories is not just the personal dedication and determination they show – two young people moved to drive themselves to greatness by the greatness of others – but the potential for people to inspire each other; to unlock potential in one another and bring out the best.

Of course,not everyone has the opportunity to meet their heroes. But that is not to say great things cannot be achieved by the most ordinary of connections, in the most familiar of places.

Take the Gallatown Bike Hub in Kirkcaldy, for example. The hub began with a few teenagers learning and teaching each other bike maintenance. The group then began offering to repair people’s bikes from around the community, and, after a donation of 20 bikes from local people, the group began lending and giving bikes out around the neighbourhood and organising trips and community bike rides.

Fast forward nearly four years and the Bike Hub is a fully fledged social enterprise servicing and repairing bikes for the community, and selling recycled and refurbished ones. It still regularly organises rides and meet-ups, teaches people maintenance skills and has created a growing network of cycling enthusiasts throughout Gallatown and beyond. All this has happened because a few local people met at a youth club.

The teenagers who set up the Bike Hub did so with the help of Shuggy Hughes from Kirkcaldy YMCA. Shuggy is part of Link Up, a programme run by Inspiring Scotland to build connections across communities in Scotland. He was also involved in setting up the youth groups in Gallatown where the teenagers met and has helped local folk to run cookery and computer classes, gardening groups, a thriving community cafe and a fruit and veg co-op. But he can’t (and wouldn’t) take all the credit.

Link Up is about supporting people to get together in their communities and create their own groups and social activities – doing things they want, the way they want to do them. Communities come together, participate, get to know each other and inspire each other to realise their, and their community’s, potential.

As Shuggy says: “It costs absolutely hee-haw to get involved in the Bike Hub, which breaks down one of the biggest barriers to participation in ‘so-called’ deprived communities. Local folk can come along and get their bike fixed, learn how to fix their own bike, ride their bike, borrow a bike and even build a bike to keep. We’ve helped build over 300 bikes for free with local folk over the past four years.

“The real beauty of Link Up is that communities aren’t being defined by an index of deprivation stats – it’s all about the cakes they bake, the friends they make, the bikes they fix, the quilts they crochet and the lives they change. The Gallatown Bike Hub is just a small part of the emerging Scottish Index of Multiple Aspirations.”

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At the heart of the Bike Hub is something really simple: local people – friends, neighbours, strangers – getting together and starting something, helping each other to achieve, grow, learn and find purpose, encouraging each other to build something great together. And, who knows, maybe the next cycling gold medallist will hail from Gallatown, inspired to greatness by a trip down to the Bike Hub.

• Celia Tennant is chief executive of Inspiring Scotland which runs the Link Up programme in 10 communities across Scotland. To find out more follow Link Up on Facebook and Twitter @LinkUpScotland