Anna Lawson, energy modeller and engineer by day, talks about the welcoming community of cycling and how The recent Ride for Change from London to Glasgow connected people.
There is something about cycling that draws connections between people and places. It’s been the most welcoming community I’ve ever known and stretches across age groups, cultures, and backgrounds. I’ve met the majority of my closest friends on two wheels and have seen some of the most spectacular places and favourite adventures in a saddle. You see the world from a different perspective, slower than travelling by car, train, or plane, and closer to nature and the elements than almost anything else. At times it’s mentally and physically challenging and sometimes it pushes your boundaries of what you consider to be fun - particularly in horizontal rain or hail. But since starting cycling eight years ago, my world’s become nothing but fuller.
During working hours I’m an energy modeller and engineer, calculating and creating urban decarbonisation and energy strategies for private developments, authorities, and governments as part of Arup’s Energy, Cities and Climate Change team. Climate change has driven everything I’ve learned through academia, and my career has always been shaped around applying myself to it as effectively as possible. My job involves modelling energy demand, demand reduction and low carbon energy supply opportunities (anyone fancy heating their home from their local crematorium’s waste heat?). We then combine this with policies, funding, and resource constraints, consider pressing needs for climate change adaptation and possible stakeholder investment and try and fit the puzzle pieces together to find a tangible solution and action plan.
So, when I was approached to help to coordinate Ride the Change, a mass cycle to COP26 for sustainability-minded, cycling enthusiasts (the word enthusiast used in varying and wonderful degrees), it seemed like a perfect collision of two of the most important things in my life. I was part of the original team who dreamed up the idea of how it would work, the route we would take, how best to plan accommodation and the extra events and elements which would connect people further - while giving them chance to recover from what would be a tough week for legs, lungs, and bums. At times it felt an impossible challenge thanks to the global pandemic, and even a few weeks out we were questioning: would enough people want to join? Would we be able to cover costs? But we stuck with it and the teams at Brake the Cycle and Adventure Uncovered pulled out all the stops of last-minute planning. On the first morning, we turned up to Vauxhall to a mass of cyclists with every type of bike you could imagine, music, lights, colours, and nervous excitement for the start of an adventure with a group of strangers.
We covered hundreds of miles of roads, canal paths, cycling networks and a few unintentional fields; we consumed a worrying number of inner tubes, coffees, and Premier Inn breakfasts; and many of us learned the hard way that waterproof clothing loses any sort of effectiveness when you cross the Scottish Border. I now know the most efficient way to dry clothes overnight with a hotel hairdryer, if anyone is interested. We saw the stunning landscapes of the Lake District, became too familiar with a few potholes, had some incredible, locally sourced lunches at hidden gems across the country and within a couple of days and many, many kilometres, the strangers we left with from Vauxhall felt like friends we’d known for years.
Over the peaceful hum of spinning wheels, we shared stories of our work, our passions, the actions we were taking and hoping for in the name of climate change, and a lot of laughs. Each day you met a different face, found a new connection and, for me at least, felt the fire of hope and inspiration for the fight against climate change get stoked a little more. In just a week I made friendships and memories which will stay with me for a long time to come. Regardless of the outcome of COP26 and whether you perceive that as positive, negative, or somewhere in between, Ride the Change reminded me that our strengths lie in the intelligent and passionate people who are driving the fight from all sides.