How Sara’s making Sunderland accessible

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Gateway Wheelers is pedalling accessibility through Houghton-le-Spring. The charity enables people of all abilities to get on the cycling track.

Sara Bateman is the Lead Project Manager at Gateway Wheelers. It’s a charity based in Houghton which allows people of any ability to enjoy the freedom of cycling. Sara puts it simply, “If anyone has a disability that doesn’t allow them to ride a bike, we can get them on one.”


Innovative cycling

The charity first began when the father of a son with disabilities grew frustrated with the lack of facilities. So, he built an adapted bike with his friend. In 2000, Gateway Wheelers became a registered charity, which is now run by Sara and a passionate group of volunteers and trustees.


“Nobody else does adapted cycling”, Sara explains, “There are people who have problems with their legs that can’t keep their feet on the pedal. So now we have a range of five to six different adaptations of the bike. We’ll start at number one, and if that doesn’t work, we’ll just do it again.” This accessible innovation has not only attracted riders from Sunderland, but from all over the North East, including Durham, Darlington, and Northumberland.


“The mental benefits, building confidence, seeing the smiles on people’s faces… It's fantastic.”


No holding back

After suffering a brain injury, Sara was told she wouldn’t be able to work. But this wasn’t going to discourage her, and she decided to volunteer in schools across Sunderland. “It was there I realised I had a knack for fixing bikes and teaching kids how to ride.” After being involved in various other charities, and being named as one of the top 100 women in We Are Cycling UK 2022, Sara was diagnosed with functional neurological disorder.


Sara explains, “With FND, you think of your brain like a computer, you’ve got a corrupt file, and you have to unlock that file, but you don’t know what it is.” Sara eventually began to remember, and put her incredible recovery down to cycling, and it’s part of why she’s so passionate about Gateway Wheelers. “I went cycling on the A690, and my memory came back.” The effect the charity has on the people who take part is incomparable to anything else, says Sara, “You see people go from ‘I can’t do it’ to ‘I’m doing it’”.


Uplifting Sunderland

Sara takes great pride in her local area, hoping more people will get involved in community projects and volunteer where they can. But, the smallest and easiest thing everyone can do, she encourages, is saying hello to people, “You could be the only person that they’ve talked to that day.”


With a new cycling lane being built, Sara is also hopeful for more accessible infrastructure. “I know it’s coming and it’s going to take time to get there, so if we want more people with disabilities to be able to cycle, we just need the infrastructure.”


Feeling inspired?

Take it further with these related pages and websites:

Visit the Gateway Wheelers website to find out more.

Discover other volunteering opportunities in Sunderland.

Take a look at Sunderland’s beautiful great outdoors.

Explore the cycling routes spanning Sunderland’s landscape.