Recently a new progressive regional mtb organisation called 1 South West came to the attention of us here at IBIKERide.
So being the trail obsessed inquisitive folks that we are here at IBIKERide we decided to get together with the team there and meet up with their Head honcho and man of the hour Paul Hawkins the Project Manager at 1 South West to get the low down on who these folks are and what they are planning for mountain biking in the South West of England. So here is how it went.
So Paul, what is the overall background and objectives of 1 South West?
We formed into an active regional body from a group of organisations keen to see the SW develop its own Mountain biking product designed at encouraging riders from a number of backgrounds to take to cycling and start enjoying the outdoors.
Who are the lead/instigators and the team?
Individuals like David West the Development Manager at the Forestry Commission kicked it all off a while back. But today we are strongly backed and driven by a whole host of partners including the Forestry Commission England, Sports England, South West Tourism, British Cycling, Devon and Bristol Council and The Silvanus Trust. Other well known figures such as Ian Warby from the CTC and Chris Revill from the IMBA have been instrumental in ensuring 1 South West’s success.
So Paul what is your MTB story and what do you personally want out of the project?
I started out on the Quantocks as a teenager and used to ride 15 miles to get there, ride all day, then home. I have always worked outdoors, leading groups from children to probationers, walking, climbing, canoeing and mountain biking, all at an introductory level. I have a real passion for pursuing and active lifestyle, but recognise that telling the average 13 year old that today we will do a nature walk will not spark as much interest as a day of adventure sports, but once you get them out there, the learning is the same.
I want to see more everyday people taking up mountain biking. It all goes back to what the older generations hark on about - heading off on their bikes into the countryside all day for proper exercise and fresh air. These simple pleasures are becoming less accessible to the modern generation, with parents with modern day fears. Our objective is to facilitate and encourage this generation to rediscover the beautiful South West countryside.
Who has and will be designing and building the trails?
All contracts have been procured on a site-by-site basis, so a mix of trail designers. We’ve used Phil Saxena, Rowan Sorrell, Hugh Clixby, Dafydd Davis and some in-house FC experience. We are probably one of very few projects to work with so many designers rather than just one.
How are 1SW working with cycling organisations and the forestry commission particularly CTC MTB?
1SW is hosted by FC England. Ian Warby, CTC MTB sits on our Executive Board and steers the Project, has done from 2006.
What are the plans and philosophy around the MTB hubs?
The hubs are only a small part of the story. We want people to move from the hubs into the wider landscape rides and back again, we don’t see hubs as being the place where everyone rides, all of the time. We still believe the best riding in the South West will always be out on the bridleway and green lane networks, but people need to build up their confidence and knowledge, and the hubs are the best place to do this. The Interactive Map on the website is the way this all links together.
What are the plans for the facilities and for developing going forward at the hubs?
Each of the hubs are different, with different ownership, with different aims. Between them all there should be something for everyone (e.g. café, visitors centres, bike wash etc). They are maintained through a mix of income from parking, cycle hire, café etc, through to private sponsorship. Each of the hubs are different as said so when it comes to ongoing development, each has constraints, the SW does not have huge tracts of woodland like Scotland and Wales.
What are 1SW doing to actively involve communities and/or clubs?
CTC, IMBA and British Cycling all sit on the Exec Board. Last year we gave out bursaries to train up club members as MTB guides to encourage more people into the club scene. Have engaged with numerous local clubs on different levels.
Who do 1SW see themselves emulating or are they their own beast with their own plan?
A mix of following what others have done, and also heading off into unchartered ground. We believe we are the first UK region to try to link up Hub centres with wider countryside riding and promoted routes through our Adventure Cycle Map, and the aim is to drive business across the whole region, into rural areas, not just into a small number of stand-alone sites.
So moving on, what are the future plans for building more trails?
Limited – we have until Dec 2013 with the current funding, and the Community Interest Company we have set up to carry on the good work will initially focus more on bringing together the community and keeping up the information and publicity than building new trails.
What if any plans do you have with the downhill scene.
We haven’t pushed the downhill scene, our funding and aims have been around more entry level MTB, i.e. building a strong base of support and use, not at top end. Given the ethos of the sport however and the desire of riders to keep improving, this should hopefully bring more young people into MTB that then develop their skills quickly and go on to push the direction of downhill themselves.
Having said that, we do liaise with a number of different contacts at different times on different things, and promote Gawton Gravity Hub downhill base through our website for example. UK Bike Park and Sallowvallets also are part of this thinking.
What is the most popular of your trails and why?
Ashton Court and Leigh Woods on sheer numbers, due to the number of people living nearby who can cycle there, and the presence of the Timberland Trail that was already popular, but close behind is the Verderers trail in Forest of Dean, probably because the area was crying out for a trail of that nature in an already popular cycling area.
So what type of person are 1SW currently hoping to attract (demographics)?
Existing visitors and residents to / in the South West who want to get out more. Not top end MTBers being diverted from Scotland or Wales and seeing the SW as the latest and best big thing in the UK.
Will the target market change/develop the longer the project develops?
Yes, but there is a huge amount of thought behind what has been done to date. Development over time with demand is the key, not leap around and try to be all things to all men.
Just as this feature was going live the great news came in of another 1 South West initiative getting signed off. Soon there will be 10km of new virgin trails in Lanhydrock plus a cafe and bike hire facility! Another trail for the directory and to feed what seems to be an insiatiable appetite in the UK right now.
Thinking back on the interview the thing that really stand out to me are that every area of the UK is different and the team at 1SW are keen to carve their own way. No one model fits all and this is the benefit of regional organisations. Unique to their thinking that resonated for me is the idea to connect the hubs with the wider English Countryside as well as focus in on getting new folk into the sport. That has to be a good thing. Big Thanks to Paul and massive luck to the whole team down there.