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Its all 'smiles' for Women in Rochdale


Rochdale’s GOGA hub exudes happiness!  During my visit, I had the pleasure of meeting the Women’s Muskaan Group. Muskaan is a word derived from the Indian language, meaning ‘smile’ and ‘happiness’. These are perfect words to describe the demeanour of this group of women with mild learning difficulties, who have become regular members of the accessible cycling sessions held at the Bowlee Leisure Centre.

From the moment they arrived at the session it was clear that the women were really looking forward to it. They enjoyed a familiar warm welcome, had trust in the coaches to prepare them safely for the session and very quickly chose their preferred cycling experience. Some women expressed their independence by choosing a single seated bike. One woman (aged 44) wanted the companionship of their support worker, whilst another (aged 34) asked for one of the coaches to join them on a two seater.

I was interested to know if there were any barriers to overcome to create a sustainable activity for the Muskaan Group. Lisa Stockton, Lead Support Officer at Gateway Leisure explained that some of the barriers are linked to the cultural expectations and some to the perceptions of disability amongst the women’s families.Womens Cycling

Lisa, Muskaan Lead Support Officer said:

It’s an ongoing process of building a trusted relationship with the families. We regularly talk with the families to allay any fears or concerns about their female relatives taking part in accessible cycling. We reassure them that transport will be provided and the women will be safely supervised at all times during the activity sessions

Graeme Hill, GOGA locality lead for Rochdale, added:

I work very closely with the support workers from Rochdale Gateway and the Bikes4All team at the Bowlee Leisure Centre to make sure we mitigate any barriers to taking part. Our experience of working with individuals with learning difficulties is at the heart of creating the positive activity you see today. All of the staff offer strong reassurance and encourage the women to cycle independently if they want to

When I asked the women they liked about the session, they said “It’s good fun”, “I like going fast!”,  “I like talking to people on the way round”. They broadly expressed the enjoyment, excitement and social values reflected in Understanding Women’s Lives insight.