- Together Festival 22
- Next Gen
Cycling and Christianity isn’t often a combination that are mixed, but one man from Wolverhampton is working hard to challenge this preconception.
Sam Henry has been involved in Youth Work in the Black Country, Yorkshire & USA for many years and is passionate about churches working together to prevent vulnerable young people from getting involved with gangs, country lines organisations and generally making bad choices.
By engaging them with a love of cycling.
In the past, Sam has worked as a local authority youth worker in Wolverhampton. His role involved working with young people from some of the toughest places in the city, including Parkfields, Blakenhall and All Saints, taking groups of young people out to Wales and across the UK for 3-day cycle residentials during school holidays.
“Working with kids at risk of gang-life was incredibly rewarding,” explains Sam, as he reminisces on his previous experiences. “Cycling gave them the chance to develop interests and dream bigger and I’ve seen so many young people develop and grow into great people when they were at risk of getting drawn into a life of crime or dropping out of mainstream education.”
On the one hand, as a local authority youth worker, Sam’s heart for helping young people is shared by many others that have no links to church at all. So where does faith come into it?
The difference with Sam is that he loves Jesus and just one conversation with him makes it screamingly obvious that faith motivates everything Sam does.
“Jesus went about from town to town doing good and healing all who were oppressed,” explains Sam. “I believe we can use cycling just as Jesus used walking to make a difference to people’s mental health. Getting outside and seeing the beauty of creation is highly conducive to good mental health and thousands of young people in our inner cities have little or no opportunity to experience it.”
Several years ago, after seeing the impact that recreational exercise and cycling can have on young people’s mental health, God gave Sam a dream to set “no limits” on children, young people and adult’s health and help them engage with cycling as a positive use of their free time.
Starting with a partnership with the Canal and Rivers Trust to take children and young people on cycling tours of the region’s towpaths, the vision has grown and last year Sam successfully raised the money for the one of the city’s few Cycle Hubs, to be situated at Mount Shiloh Church in East Park, Wolverhampton. Mount Shiloh is located right next to East Park and is a perfect location for No Limit to Health’s first cycle hub. Pastor Gilroy Brown was instrumental in enabling this to take happen and as a result a strong partnership has developed between No Limits & Nu Shiloh, the community arm of Mount Shiloh Church.
“Our vision is to partner with local churches to establish No Limits Cycle Hubs across the Black Country and in Birmingham,” explains Sam. “We want to train up qualified Cycling Ride Leaders in churches across the Black Country to operate the Cycle Hubs, support vulnerable young people and help them to engage positively with cycling.”
The ultimate vision of No Limits to Health CIC is to have No Limits Cycle Hubs situated at strategic locations across the Black Country that will be full of bikes that can be hired by members of the public to follow cycle routes around the park. However, alongside the cycle hire, Sam’s vision is to offer guided rides as well. These rides would be led by volunteers who have completed the ride leader training, ideally from local partner churches, who would be trained up by either British Cycling or Cycling UK to become Cycling Ride Leaders.
“It’s about taking the church out of the four walls of our buildings and into the heart of the community,” shares Sam, his excitement evident in his voice. “Parks are so full of people, and particularly young people, so why not take the church to the park?”
Just as God told him to, Sam is setting “no limits” on the vision and is also passionate about engaging BAME young people in cycling.
As part of his role as a Director on the British Cycling West Midlands Regional Board, Sam is responsible for leading and championing on Inclusion, Diversity and Disability.
“Young people from the Black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities across the Black Country are hugely under-represented in cycling sports through lack of opportunity to access cycling as a sport. In respect to track cycling a key barrier to this is the expense associated with good quality cycling gear and access to an indoor velodrome such as in Derby, Newport or Manchester. If we could engage more young people from BAME communities in cycling activities both from a recreational and sport angle, we could see a huge change in so many of their lives and hopefully divert them from getting involved in gang-related activity.”
The Marshall Major Taylor Initiative is part of Sam’s solution to this problem.
The story of Marshall Major Taylor is an inspiring one. Born in 1878, he was a black man from Illinois, USA. At the 1899 World Championships in Montreal, Canada, Taylor won the one-mile sprint, to become the first African American to win a world championship in cycling. This was just 34 years after the abolition of slavery in 1865. A devout Christian, he never rode on a Sunday, didn’t vent in anger and rage when he faced racism and was an example of the love of Jesus in the face of extreme racism.
“We want to partner with local churches to take the story of Marshall Major Taylor into schools across the region to encourage young people, and particularly those from BAME communities who are still massively under-represented in cycle sports, to encourage them to take up faith and take up cycling.”
Sam’s vision for engaging young people in cycling and the huge impact it can have on their mental health, well-being and future is incredibly encouraging and everyone at Love Black Country wishes him well in his vision.
Sam and his team are currently looking to partner with local churches to develop Cycle Hubs and the Marshall Major Taylor initiative. You can email Sam at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about partnerships opportunities.