Sustrans' bike network passes milestone

Sustrans, the UK's largest sustainable transport charity, is co-ordinator of the National Cycle Network, which provides signposted bicycle routes across the country.

Campaign 10 out of 10
Client Sustrans
PR team In-house
Timescale June-September 2005
Budget £18,000

Last September the charity - which received £43.5m from the National Lottery ten years ago to fund the scheme - oversaw the completion of the network's first 10,000 miles.

To celebrate the achievement Sustrans organised a range of activities across the UK. These included a series of cycle rides, two bike festivals, an awards ceremony and a conference on climate change. The latter recognised the contribution of the charity's public and private sector partners, include local authorities and groups such as Transport for London.

The majority of events took place on the weekend starting 10 September 2005 to emphasise the '10 out of 10' campaign theme.

To raise awareness of the National Cycle Network and Sustrans' involvement with initiatives such as Safe Routes to Schools, Bike It and TravelSmart. To encourage participation in charity activity and celebrate achievements, while raising awareness of the need for transport policy makers to embrace the impact of climate change.

Strategy and Plan
The diverse range of events allowed the in-house PR team to target a broad range of media, from general news publications to specialist environmental, travel and local authority titles.

A forward feature note issued early in the year pushed the celebration message out to long-lead media, while freelance writers and broadcasters were briefed about national and local events. To accompany the programme, press releases were distributed with details of upcoming photo opportunities at the various organised rides and festivals.

For the awards ceremony, Sustrans' PR team enlisted the help of astronomer and Millennium Commissioner Heather Couper to present the prizes, including Most Supportive Land Owner (won by British Waterways) and Most Supportive Local Authority (Pembrokeshire). The conference on climate change - attended by the award winners - was promoted to national media, while the awards ceremony was targeted at local and trade media.

Human genome mapper, Nobel Prize winner and keen cyclist Sir John Sulston cut the ribbon at the point marking the network's 10,000th mile at Great Shetford, close to his home in Cambridge.

Measurement and Evaluation
Sustrans gained national feature coverage in The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Times, as well as regional pick-up. Meanwhile, chief executive John Grimshaw was a guest on BBC Radio 4's Midweek. The campaign generated more than 170 articles, 25 radio interviews and two television items.

More than 500 cyclists took part in rides around Cambridge and Preston, while 5,000 people attended the Preston festival, which is set to become an annual event. More than 150 decision makers attended the climate change conference, including government representatives.

Delegates from Scottish political parties said discussions at the conference would inform changes to their transport policy. Freelance journalist Robert Bullard, who took part in a bike ride and wrote about the network for The Daily Telegraph, says: 'The PR team went out of its way to provide information and help me do my assignment. Grimshaw made himself available for interview and volunteered to cycle part of my route with me.'

Second Opinion Nick Harvey, a freelance PR consultant, is national co-ordinator of Bike Week

With ten years to prepare for this historic celebration it would have been surprising if Sustrans had not made the most of a great PR opportunity. But in some respects this campaign was rather predictable. The 10,000th mile just happened to be close to the home of a handy Nobel Prize winner. A conference on climate change was conveniently arranged nearby, with an awards ceremony to help humanise the worthy messages around this subject.

This said though, cycle rides and festivals undoubtedly provide good photo opportunities and the results show that this mix seemed to work. Diverse media coverage was a deserved payback for the £18,000 investment.

And, of course, raising awareness of the disturbing issues around climate change is a laudable objective. Connecting that achievement with the need for transport policy makers to embrace the impact of
climate change was also a bold step.

This is a campaign that seems to have paid off, although in my view it is largely thanks to the straight-talking approach of Sustrans' visionary CEO John Grimshaw, who came across well in his interviews. He may have a tough job convincing government to act, but his message to the public is simple - walk and cycle more instead of driving.

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