We Chat to Hannah Escott About Setting Up Burlish Bike Park.

Hannah Escott is leading the charge to save a three decade old riding spot and turn it into a community-led bike park.

Pete caught up with Hannah Escott to chat turning in a flashy desk job for getting people on bikes and engaging with the outdoors, and how all that led to the idea that is Burlish Bike Park.

Why is this spot particularly important?

Burlish dirtjumps also known as ‘Project5’ and ‘The Project’ have been around for over 30 years. They’ve been visited by many World Champion racers and people used to travel from all over the country to ride them. This is our fight to save them and to expand the site to be enjoyed by all ages and abilities.

How did the Burlish Bike Park idea come about?

Unusually for informally built dirt jumps the current landowner has actually been incredible. He recognises the jumps have real community value and have been there for several decades so doesn’t want to remove them instead he kindly wants to donate the land to my charity so I can make the most of it for the local community.

However, if we can’t make it a formal bike park the jumps will have to be bulldozed, and then who knows what development will replace them.

How many people are involved and what do they do?

The team just keeps growing. I’m managing the project but I’ve never done anything like this before! I have a junior and senior development planner who are like my fairy god mother and brother steering me through the process from budgets to planning applications to transport assessments. After releasing a community survey I have had lots of enthusiastic local volunteers so have a construction team: made up of 3 different companies from electrics, plumbing and construction.

Then there’s the environmental team: ecologists, biodiversity specialists and arboraculturalists as it’s very important to me that we look after the woodland as a natural environment. My friends, family and partner Dave are busy proofreading documents, checking my sums and generally looking after me through this whole process. Finally the current riders and wider local community with their fantastic messages of support, their enthusiastic desire to volunteer and general love for the project; they are a huge motivator.

What made you want to go down the charity route?

I started my charity back in 2016. I’ve never been motivated by money; every day I think “what social benefit will I create today?” so establishing my own charity and removing red-tape experienced by working for an organisation was the way to go. I left a very comfy office job with good prospects for a successful career path to follow this dream. The days can be very long and the money is low but the whole journey is absolutely incredible.

Why a Crowdfund?

I am in a very competitive funding process with British Cycling and Sports England which requires match funding. As we are a not-for-profit we do not have spare funds to allow us to make the most of this incredible opportunity, we invest everything back into serving our beneficiaries (disadvantaged local young people) and having been heavily impacted by Covid-19 I have spent much of the year working for nothing. Thus I am calling on the help of our fantastic community and I’m seeking corporate sponsorship options too.

What will happen if you exceed your Crowdfund target?

Wow, this could make huge dreams come true. We want to expand our plans to include a slalom track, a wider cross country/cyclocross track, a balance bike race track and environmentally friendly night lighting. We also want to hold events and activities.

Most important to us is that cost doesn’t become a barrier to use of the site, we want to ensure it is free to low income families and only charge minimal fees to others so we can maintain the trails and facilities and ensure it can run sustainably.

How will the bike park operate?

The site is accessible 24/7 and our aim is for the facilities (toilets, clubhouse and snack bar) to be available 2 or 3 evenings in the summer months, over the weekends and school holidays. We will have a club and volunteer program. I want the bike park to be community-led whereby the riders and local people are the decision makers so our plans reflect what local riders want and everyone can vote on how investments are made. It is important to me than young people are represented and have a voice, as well as female riders and disabled people.

What do you plan to offer riders when the bike park is up and running?

The plans include 8 different trails suitable for beginners to elite racers for tots, teenagers and adults, trails for disability adapted bikes and a mountain bike skills development area. The site will also provide a snack bar, toilets, children’s play area and forest school.

We will host local community events, school holiday activities, a cycling club and a volunteer program. It is not just for riders, we want non-riders involved to; the cycling community is like a great big family and some people will want to be part of it but would perhaps rather build tracks or engage in our woodland management plans rather than actually ride a bike.

Priority for us is the 54% of children in this area who live in poverty, in a ward in top 5% most deprived areas in England; we want to provide them with a safe place to play and be with friends afterschool, at weekends and during the school holidays.

What did you have to sacrifice to get to this stage?/ Did you have day jobs that you had to give up?

Sleep, food, freedom etc. This feels like a 24/7 job at the moment but lockdown, and school closures, has stopped my day-to-day work giving me the time to commit to this project. My usual Open Trail work involves supporting the personal development of local disadvantaged kids in their schools, I teach them to ride bikes for the first time, we dig bike trails on their school site, build dens and toast marshmallows over camp fires.

I love it and miss it heaps but this project is a lot more work than I had originally anticipated so it’s good that I get to knuckle down and invest my time in making this happen.

Are you working alongside to make ends meet?

Like many people, in the current circumstances I am living off savings.

Have you had to overcome any major obstacles to get to this point?

This is going to sound really deep and spiritual! “The only obstacles I have are the ones I give myself”. It took courage to leave my comfy graduate job to set up my charity, it’s taken countless 16/17 hour days to get it where it is today and it takes confidence, determination and faith to believe I can make it happen. Some of my friends think I’m crazy but if no one is willing to create change then nothing new will ever happen.

What was involved in that process?

Overcoming a lot of self-doubt, putting myself under a lot pressure, working really hard and a whole lot of support from family and friends. For sure this is not a one-woman show I couldn’t do it without the people closest to me.

Where next for Burlish Bike Park? How do you plan to go about getting extra helpers etc. etc.?

“This is Burlish, anything is possible!” The community are already very keen to help, and our charity already works with a lot of local schools, groups and organisations so I think I just need to keep everyone engaged in this development. It’s a community led project, so as long as I can support people in contributing and being part of the decision making the enthusiasm will grow and develop.

Anybody to thank at this point in the journey? Long suffering spouses/parents/friends?

I want to thank those first people who got me on a proper bike on a proper trail for the first time, those who dusted off the first crashes, taught me to ride and gave me there old parts to get started. I think all of us have had ‘those people’ in our cycling lives and that’s what the cycling community is about for me. Also a massive shout out to those closest to me who help balance my project excitement and keep me rolling, and to all the fantastically wonderful generous people who have donated, shared our Crowdfunder and said “Hannah, you’ve got this!”

You can support Hannah and Burlish Bike Park by donating to their Crowdfund here.