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The London Marathon Charitable Trust helps blaze a trail

There are few more striking places in London in which to enjoy the great outdoors than Osterley Park. And fewer still that border a road as busy and noisy as the M4, yet could make you feel as though you’re a million miles from any such hustle and bustle.

The National Trust’s 357 acres of land and stunning house are probably one of London’s best kept secrets, but to their users they are a haven of well-kept open spaces and trails that provide plenty of opportunity to enjoy a range of health and fitness activities.

This year, those activities have been enhanced thanks to a grant from The London Marathon Charitable Trust to upgrade around 4.5km of cycling trails within the grounds.

But far from targeting the hardcore cyclists you might find enjoying some of London’s other green spaces, Osterley Park’s focus with this project is to encourage entry-level cyclists, families and people who are currently inactive.

It’s an audience that certainly needs attention. In its first year, Sport England’s Active Lives Survey reported that over 11 million people are inactive (classed as doing less than 30 minutes of exercise per week).

It is this section of the population the National Trust is concerned with. The new trails at Osterley are one of 10 projects taking place at the charity’s sites around the UK that aim to increase the levels of activity undertaken by visitors.

“Cycling as an activity is perfect for the National Trust in terms of the type of audience we’re looking to reach,” says Ed Hewison, Outdoor Activities Development Officer at Osterley House. “The Sport England statistics make for quite grim reading – there are so many [inactive] people hiding away. We’re trying to offer a family-friendly, entry-level, inactive-to-active accessible venue. 

“You could argue that Richmond Park is close to us, and it’s a fantastic place to get fit, but it’s got a different audience to the type of person we’re aiming for here. That’s reflected in the skills area and the blue trail we’ve put in – it’s fun to ride but not intimidating, that’s what it’s about. You could do it on a balance bike.”

Snaking through a wooded section of the new trails, the skills area is the perfect place for younger riders to learn how to handle their bikes through tight turns and to negotiate small humps, with the rest of the trail a significant improvement on what was there before.

General Manager of the property Neil Cole explains: “There are a number of properties where there is cycling activity but it is very much random in its approach. Before this project there were no designated cycle trails. 

“As a community of properties we were approached and I put Osterley forward and tried to seek funding. We learned that The London Marathon Charitable Trust was primarily focused on awarding grants to projects in the areas where London Marathon Events Ltd holds events and we realised we could benefit. 

“We wanted something that was family-friendly and very much used for cycling, but that could also be used for running, walking, wheelchair users, parents with buggies and all other visitors. 

“The project has involved upgrading existing pathways to a better standard so they are now multi-purpose, cambered correctly and wider.”

With the £150,000 grant from The London Marathon Charitable Trust also comes the requirement to report back on the impact the project has had on the number of people using the trails. 

The primary aim is to increase visitor numbers to the trails, measured by counters positioned at the entrance to the new routes, to 50,000 a year by 2019.

There are also aims to increase regularly active participants to 13,000 a year and to get the proportion of participants aged 14 to 25 across the park’s sports activities to 50 per cent.

Already the park is used by a women’s cycling group, which Hewison hopes will grow in number with the more accessible trails in place, and he also has plans for a link-up with GP surgeries in the community for cycling and other forms of exercise to become referral options for patients who would benefit.

“That’s the challenge,” says Cole, “that inactive audience – to get them active because they have all of this on their doorstep.” 

And with these new facilities now open, the residents and visitors to west London have a wonderful opportunity to get active.