Sunday, 19 October 2014

CTC Cambridge at the Cambridge Freshers' Festival

Julia writes: Last week, CTC Cambridge took part in the Freshers' Festival, organised by the Cambridge University Students Union. The event was held in the Kelsey Kerridge Sports Centre and on Parker's Piece on Tuesday 7th and Wednesday 8th October.

With thousands of students expected to attend, it seemed a perfect opportunity to introduce young people to CTC as a national organisation, but in particular to the activities of our local group. Road racing and mountain biking are well catered for by other clubs in the city (the Cambridge University Cycling Club, for example), but touring or casual, sociable road riding is something not easily found in other clubs - and is of course the core of our local group activities.

The event was set to start at 9 am on the Tuesday morning, with registration opening at 8 am, so it was an early start for me. Having borrowed a gazebo from our neighbours and packed it, together with banners, posters, Cycle magazines and flyers, into the box of our cargo bike, I set off on what was a rather cloudy and cool morning. The forecast was for occasional showers and strong winds, and I hoped that we'd be able to set up our stall in the dry before the official start of the festival.

The organisation wasn't brilliant, I have to say, and it took some time and effort to find out what was where and how things were meant to work. I eventually managed to register, pick up our staff lanyards and find our designated spot on the “bike market” on Parker's piece, albeit somewhat later than I had expected. Tina, who had kindly volunteered to help me out during the morning, arrived just before 9 o'clock, and together we erected the gazebo, found a table and two chairs, fastened banners and posters in place and by 10 am were ready to go.

I had been worried about not being all set up by 9 am for the “official” start of the event, but I need not have been. It was very quiet initially - most students are not early birds, apparently! Simon Nuttal from the Cambridge Cycling Campaign seemed to have known this - he only arrived around 11 am to check out the situation, deciding that, as it was getting a bit busier by then, it would be worth setting up their stand next to ours.

We were situated between the stalls of the Cambridgeshire County Council, who informed about road safety and handed out free cycling maps and accessories, and various cycle shops showcasing their bikes. By late morning things livened up and we did get to chat to some of the people passing through the bike market area, introducing them to CTC, telling them about the rides we organise and encouraging them to join the club - at only £16 per year we feel that a student membership (link) is very good value for money, indeed! But it was not just students who stopped by to learn more about CTC - the event was open to parents and the general public, too.

A dull, cold and windy morning turned into a sunny and much more pleasant afternoon. There was live music and fun bikes to try out for entertainment, Outspoken's smoothie bike, a curry bus and a crepes van for refreshments, and the event developed something like a festival atmosphere at last.

Flo and Ian came back to help me pack up, and once everything was back in the cargo bike we had a look around the various attractions ourselves. Flo was most impressed with the big lorry that was parked next to our stall. It was open for people to get in and check out the high tech safety features on board modern HGVs, which should help to make those big vehicles less hazardous for cyclists - such as all-round cameras and automatic warning announcements.

Ian had a go on a Paper Bicycle (no, it's not made of paper), an Airnimal Joey folding bike and an Onderwater family tandem, while Flo and I enjoyed a test ride on the School Run Centre's teddy tricycle. I have to say I was rather impressed with the manoeuvrability of this vehicle, given its weight and size!

On Wednesday the event started an hour later, so Ian and I arrived at Parker's Piece around 10 am. We had four more helpers on the second day: Simon K, who had generously offered to volunteer the entire day and helped us set things up, Mike S, Bob B and Sue H. Together they manned our stall and - more importantly - actively approached people as they passed by.

As on the previous day we found that simply being present at the stall was not enough to get people interested, but when we walked up to them - armed with leaflets, magazines and a big smile - many reacted positively and some were very keen to find out more. Simon K developed an especially effective technique for stopping students in their tracks and getting them involved in a cycling conversation, and by midday we were running out of our local group leaflets. I dashed to the office to get a new stack printed and then had to go to work, so I left the others to carry on with the afternoon session.

In total we handed out around 100 leaflets and I would say it was a pretty successful event. Thanks again to all our volunteers who helped to make it happen! Julia Hochbach

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