Vicky Balfour has been a long time Friend of FINDRA and we recently got chatting to her about the community initiative, the Canterbury Bike Project, which she’s involved with. We’ve always believed in the importance of getting people together to share knowledge and building support networks, so we asked Vicky to tell us more, including how it all began for her.
Hey Vicky! Tell us about how the outdoors has been important to you over the years.
I’ve always been very outdoorsy and independent even since I can remember. When I was about 11 or 12, sailing and exploring world with my family on boats was my first love. I had a little dinghy in the nearby village about 5 miles away and I used to cycle along, take my boat out on my own and have an adventure, then cycle home. So, for me, cycling has always been a source of independence and confidence. Growing up, I did the usual thing – went to University and had kids – and my youngest has got quite profound special needs so I got totally lost in life. But we’d go on activity holidays and I would go out mountain biking with a guide and I was reminded of just how fun it all – having your wheels skid underneath you brought back that sense of adventure again.
How did you end up involved in the Canterbury Bike Project?
As time passed, things with my children were settling down and I was able to go back to work. I thought that if I was already putting my family through an upheaval of me not being there all the time, I should do something I really love. I felt comfortable working with tools so I trained as a bike mechanic and got a job at a local bike shop. It was here that I heard about the Canterbury Bike Project and because I’d always been brought up to do local things, I jumped at the chance to get involved.
What is it that you do with the Canterbury Bike Project?
We decided I was going to do a fortnightly session for local woman but since I started it’s grown exponentially. Now I’m in the process of setting up a programme to get a fleet of bikes and roll it out to local schools, as well as to women, and we’ll offer a mix of mechanics and guided rides. We want to give teenage girls and women that sense of independence that I felt cycling to my dinghy as a youngster.
The project was initially set up as part of a local high school, Canterbury Academy, who just completely believe in kids and their abilities. If working with a child doesn’t work in the normal way, they turn it around and find a different way of working with them to they succeed; they don’t write any child off. The Canterbury Bike Project is now rolled out across East Kent to a number of schools and is really moving forward. It teaches how to face down fear with courage and shows that it’s OK to fail because it’s about adapting and learning how to change. These are both incredibly important lesson to learn from a young age.
Why do you love teaching bike mechanics?
I love teaching mechanics, to women in particular, for a few reasons. Firstly, knowing how your bike works and how you fix it gives you the independence to go and do the things you want without any extra fear. Secondly, giving yourself a focus allows you to switch off from the rest of the world. You have to be very present and engage all of your senses to identify the issue and know how to fix it. It’s an incredibly mindful experience. Some of the ladies in the classes have incredibly busy lives and have a lot going on, but when they’re fixing their bike you can see their mind clear and they focus on the problem at hand. With all the CBT I’ve done, coping with the world around us is about creating space and separation and that’s where mechanics comes in.
I’ve seen simple things in people change from getting involved with the Canterbury Bike Project. Some women who have been with us right from the beginning are still with us. Some of them didn’t know anything when they first came but are now passing on their support to others. They’re all beginning to work together; it’s gone from being a very binary dynamic of teacher and pupil, to them taking ownership and helping each other and the new women who join. They’re a completely mixed bunch of women but they’re all fantastic.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Be true to yourself.
Why do you think people join community projects like this?
People come to the classes partly because they just want to be in the hub and busy and welcoming environment. It’s a warehouse building – it’s not swanky, but you feel better being here and connecting with people. It’s good for the soul.
What’s been your favourite trip or adventure?
That’s so hard! LOL. Working at Mega last year, I road-tripped down with my mate Josh and either side of working we had a few days riding in various resorts and at the end of the week I did a great solo ride from Alpes d’Huez down to Bourg d’Oisans where I met Josh. After an intense period of work it was just what I needed to reset. It was awesome fun and I got to ride Mega as well, which I never expected to – when I’m feeling stressed I often remember waking up in Les Deux Alpes the first morning. We’d parked up late at night and the view from my van bunk was the sun coming across the mountain – it was magical. I’m really looking forward to heading to Lesotho, Africa, in a few weeks for Kingdom Enduro with a few friends. That’s going to be incredible.
Do you find that being outside has a positive impact on your wellbeing and mental health?
Absolutely! It’s my go to when things are hard or I’m feeling ‘wobbly’. Did you know, there are shapes called fractals, which are only found in nature and looking at them is scientifically proven to be good for us. Beyond that, getting physical exercise, especially on a bike, is the best way I know of keeping mentally fit.
When did you discover FINDRA and what’s your favourite piece?
I discovered FINDRA about 4 years ago – I can’t remember how I came across FINDRA but I remember loving Alex’s background and the fact that you combined good cut and quality materials. I also sew and make clothes and I love the fact that I don’t have to compromise on fit or fabric and Findra is the first place I found that delivers that too. and I now have so many pieces! My absolute favourite is my Betty merino neckwarmer – I wear it all the time and it’s so versatile!