Unique pilot project in the Borders uses mountain biking to improve mental health

Sense of achievement...for participants in the pilot who loved the mountain biking course delivered by DMBinS and health and social care partnership.
Sense of achievement...for participants in the pilot who loved the mountain biking course delivered by DMBinS and health and social care partnership.

Exercise and getting out in the fresh air are often extolled as being good for our mental health.

And a pilot project in the Borders set out to prove that very point.

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland (DMBinS) is part of Cycling Scotland, the national governing body for the sport in our country.

DMBinS’ main remit is to promote mountain biking; it runs a variety of projects to entice more people to take up the sport.

In August and September last year, that saw a unique partnership being forged between DMBinS, Scottish Borders Health and Social Care Partnership’s Galashiels Resource Centre and Edinburgh Napier University.

They offered a six-week block of mountain biking as part of a therapeutic recovery programme for people experiencing mental health issues.

Ten participants travelled from across the Borders to the renowned mountain biking centre at Glentress near Peebles.

Participants were supplied with bikes and helmets from Alpine Bikes store at Glentress before embarking on a two-hour mountain bike ride, led by qualified leaders from DMBinS with support from local volunteers.

Gala Resource Centre staff were also on hand to reinforce strategies that each person could use to manage their own challenges and difficulties.

And it proved a huge success, becoming one of the best attended courses ever.

Robert McCulloch-Graham, the Health and Social Care Partnership’s chief officer, said: “This was a hugely innovative and exciting project and I am delighted that our clients found it to be so beneficial.

“It certainly seems to have been one of the best attended programmes the partnership has delivered with staff reporting an exceptional response.

“Not only did they find it useful to be able to work with participants in a real life setting, they were also able to observe some genuine progress being made in terms of personal resilience, self-efficacy, social skills and confidence.

“Our thanks go to DMBinS for their support in enabling us to provide our clients with this opportunity.

“We look forward to seeing the project evaluation and what potential there might be for the initiative to be available elsewhere in Scotland in the future.”

The project was the brainchild of Graeme McLean, DMBinS’s project manager.

He explained: “As part of the national strategy for mountain biking in Scotland, it’s our job to develop the sport and oversee projects. I had wondered for some time whether mountain biking could be used by the NHS to help patients.

“Last year, I attended an international conference where a presentation was given on mountain biking and mental health. And, I thought, yes this is the path we need to go down – we need to do something.

“When I came home, I spoke to my wife about it; she’s a social worker with Scottish Borders Council. She put me in touch with a therapist at the resource centre who was really keen to get on board.

“So the idea really snowballed from there.”

While the pilot is yet to be evaluated by world-renowned sports psychologist Tony Westbury, of Edinburgh Napier University, there is little doubt it was a success.

Graeme said: “The aim of the pilot was three-fold – we wanted to know if mountain biking helped in the recovery process; how best to deliver the project if we rolled it out and to produce a study so that people across the country could learn from it.

“The evaluation is now under way but the feedback has been really positive. The participants maybe had a rubbish weekend but felt great after the session.

“There was also a sense of achievement that they’d been able to do it. It was an amazing project to be involved with.

“Every week we went away buzzing from the enjoyment everyone was getting from the rides.”

Graeme would like to see the pilot develop.

He added: “We need to get the right people on board, as well as funding, so we won’t be able to blanket roll it out across the country.

“We need to target the right areas too – the Borders was perfect because of the partnerships and trails here.

“But it would be fantastic to trial it in another area too.”

The pilot will now be evaluated and the results shared with health and social care partnerships across the country.

Building on Olympic success

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland is a partnership project hosted within Scottish Cycling.

Scottish Cycling is the recognised national governing body for cycling in Scotland.

DMBinS supported mountain biking tourism to grow from seven to 10 per cent from 2012-2015. It is now worth an estimated £143 million to the Scottish economy per annum.

Scottish Cycling works across all six cycling disciplines: BMX, Mountain Bike, Cyclo-Cross, Road, Track and Cycle Speedway in 178 clubs throughout Scotland, with more than 650 events across the disciplines providing lots of opportunities to participate.

It oversees everything from encouraging people to ride their bikes for the first time to helping Scots compete on the international stage.

Scottish Cycling also works in partnership with British Cycling to provide support across all levels of the sport in Scotland, as well as helping to nurture home-grown talent to compete at a world and Olympic level as part of a successful GB cycling team.

There has been a 35 per cent growth in Scottish Cycling’s membership since the London Olympics in 2012.

Between 2013 and 2014, there was an 11 per cent growth in Scottish Cycling’s membership.

Since 2012, there has been a 34 per cent increase in racing licencing holders and a 23 per cent increase in the number of competitive events.

Througout Scotland, there has been a 35 per cent increase in the number of females participating in events and an eight per cent increase in female licence holders.

There are more than 178 affiliated clubs in Scotland and 650 events annually.

For more information, visit www.britishcycling.org.uk/scotland.