New mountain bike park and community centre offering kids ‘thrills and chills’ after £54k Severn Trent grant  

20th September 2023

It’s the new woodland mountain bike park and community centre that is empowering youngsters from across Worcestershire by getting them back to nature – and keeping them off the streets.

Burlish Bike Park in Stourport offers youngsters thrills with a jump-lined forest trail and then chills back at a welcoming café, where they can chat with pals or meet new friends.

The new project, run by the Open Trail cycling charity, attracted some 1,500 youngsters and people over the summer. It was awarded £54,000 from Severn Trent’s Community Fund in March to create the community centre café, toilets and additional parking at the site.

Open Trail founder Hannah Escott spoke passionately about the impact the forest attraction had already had with children and families across Worcestershire and beyond since opening in July.

The former GB Cycling Team champion said: “We wanted 1,000 riders in the first year, but we did that in the first five weeks and have now seen 1,500 over the summer, which is amazing.

“The kids go for bike rides then come into the club house area for a snack or a drink and then put the world to rights with their friends.”

The long-established trail was gifted to Open Trail by landowners in 2020 after it was threatened with closure. It had already been a favourite of mountain bikers and BMX-ers for over 30 years but now a new generation of young kids are enjoying the site after an army of community volunteers helped with the project.

Hannah said: “We have inter-generational mixing going at the park now and there are no egos. Everyone gets on so well, supporting and cheering each other on. We even have adults giving their preloved equipment away to younger riders.

“You don’t need a fancy bike to be here and membership for the year is £20 for U18s and £30 for over 18s to cover maintenance really. Once they have paid that, they can come and go as they want.

“We have local children here who have never seen a bike park who now have one on their doorstep. We also have kids getting the train from Worcester and Malvern with their bikes to come here - that’s great.”

It was while working as a countryside ranger eight years ago that Hannah said she realised something was missing for many kids today.

“I met an 11-year-old girl and she told me she was so tired, yet it was 4pm,” she recalled. “I asked why and she said, ‘I’ve got nothing to get out of bed for.’ That seemed so sad.

“Some kids are going to school obese, you see how phones and the internet rule their life. You try and have a conversation with some children and they talk at you and not to you, as they don’t know how to communicate face-to-face.

“So it’s nice for them to able to sit in our community centre clubhouse and have a two-way conversation with friends or new people, where they engage in real enthusiastic conversations.”

Encouraging youngsters from disadvantaged communities to the park was a key aim of the project.

Hannah said: “One of our riders told me a friend asked why they were not hanging around in town with everyone anymore. They replied, ‘Why would I do that, it’s boring. I get to learn new stuff and skills at the bike park.’

“I thought cool, we have literally taken children off the street. They now have somewhere to ride their bikes, learn new skills and meet new people.”

The Severn Trent grant had been vital in the success of the project, said Hannah.

“The grant has been massive for us. It meant we could expand the car park and expand the club house, rather than just being a little shed where you sign in.

“We now have disabled and women’s toilets which is great. Mums and female riders say to me, ‘Thank you so much, these are some of the best woodland toilets, it makes such a difference to us coming here.’”

Hannah added: “We also now have a clubhouse with little kitchen in it, a seating area which we can also use for training spaces, birthday parties, first aid courses and pre-school play. It is a welcoming venue that is there for everybody.

“It has changed from Burlish Bike Park to Burlish Bike Park and Outdoor Community Centre – and effectively the community centre IS Severn Trent Water.”

And Hannah and her dedicated and equally passionate team of volunteers are not stopping there.

Future plans include further developing a forest school area and encouraging more members of the community to enjoy the site with a new walking trail, as well as ‘buggy exercise’ events for young mums.

Open Trail is also looking to connect with other isolated or vulnerable individuals or groups through woodland-based wellbeing programmes, where they can enjoy the amazing countryside and socialise in the café.

Hannah said: “We have such an opportunity of doing so much more, but getting people out of their houses can be really hard work. So we are trying to say ‘come and have a coffee, come and have a chat – we really want to welcome you here.’”