ANGUS now has a community mountain bike club, thanks to funding and the support of local volunteers. Based in Arbroath, it is open to all pupils between primary six and second year.
In October 2008, with the support of Angus Council’s Active Schools team and the Community Learning and Development Outdoor Education team, Scott Francis led the first mountain bike camp.
Scott is a parent at Inverkeilor Primary School and the school grounds were used to set up obstacles and challenges to test primaries five, six and seven pupils and to develop skills used on mountain bike trails.
With the support of the Active Schools network, Scott completed the trail cycle leader qualification and has since organised Easter, summer and October school holiday time camps, supported by volunteers with a keen interest in the activity.
In the main, these camps have run over two days. During the first day, participants develop skills on Scott’s custom-built assault course. On the second day the youngsters head out on a mountain bike trial in the local area.
These camps have built up a database of interested children and families for Scott to use in future.
He has since established ‘Covert Dirt’, complete with an agency agreement with Angus Council and British Cycling membership and insurance. Activity has spread to Monifieth, with participants from schools and the Friday Nite Project, and Glamis, offering access to the Go Mountain Bike (GO MTB) training scheme.
Covert Dirt has visited schools during health weeks and two after-school clubs were established in Brechin cluster schools, thanks to Give It A Go Funding.
The local Active Schools team has also accessed lottery cash from the 2014 Communities Fund to help start a weekend club for primary six to S2 pupils.
The first event was an open day on Saturday, March 26, in the grounds of Hayshead Primary School. The club intends to base themselves at the school once a month, with the rest of the time being spent out on rides, developing skills and gaining confidence in using the local area in a responsible manner.
The funding subsidises the cost of the activity and allows Covert to carry out risk assessments and instruction. The children do not pay fees to take part.
As Angus does not have a trail centre - custom-built tracks solely for bikers - the groups have been restricted to local trails at Ethie Woods, by Arbroath, and Glamis.
This month and next following introductory sessions in the Kirriemuir and Monifieth areas, Covert Dirt and Active Schools will take groups to Carron Valley Trail Centre, near Denny, Falkirk. This has been made possible by ICYPS funding and has ensured the children have a full experience of mountain biking in the safest possible way.
The next steps for Covert’s groups include developing skills and confidence through the GO MTB scheme.
Scott stated: “I have been very surprised with the level of interest in mountain biking in schools and in the local community, considering we have limited resources. There is lots of space for us to go, but we have to think about where is firstly safe for our participants and also safe for other path users.
“This is why I am so keen to give our young people an experience of a trail centre where these issues are taken away. We plan to take at least one group to the Mountain Bike World Cup in Fort William in June – an experience they won’t forget.”
With groups at Arbroath Academy and Brechin High School becoming more active and the local Angus Mountain Bike Trails Association group aiming to establish a trail centre in Angus, there will be more opportunities for children and adults to benefit from getting out on their bikes.