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A novel approach to helping people overcome a range of mental health issues is proving popular and successful in Scotland.

The Glasgow-based Common Wheel bike project was recently named one of the winners in BBC Radio 4's "All In The Mind Awards". The radio station's long-running psychology and mental health programme asked listeners who had experienced mental health issues to nominate schemes, programmes or individuals who had gone out of their way to help them.

Winning the award for a group or project was Common Wheel, which runs courses in bicycle building and maintenance as a simple but remarkably effective therapy. By learning to strip, service and rebuild bicycles, participants in the courses learn a new skill and gain a sense of achievement. But more than that, having a new task to perform means they dwell less on their mental health issues and simply start to "come out of themselves". 

Christopher Raymond, who nominated the Common Wheel project, said the activity of bike building helped get him through some of his worst days, simply by giving him something else to focus on.

"You are not concentrating on what your thoughts are, really you are more thinking about making this other thing," he said. "The distraction makes the difference."

The main focus of the Common Wheel bike project is its Build Your Own Bike project. Designed specifically for people with mental illness, it runs for half-a-day per week over 10 weeks at two workshops, where trainers Neil and John teach people how to rebuild an old bike into something they can ride away and keep.

As well as learning specific skills transferrable to any workplace, such as timekeeping, communication and following instructions, participants gain a range of broader life skills including confidence, self-belief and motivation. Perhaps most importantly, they also make new friends and have fun.

People can be referred to the project by their GP or other frontline health professionals and the courses are free, with just a small voluntary donation to cover the cost of new parts asked of those who can afford it. To help with funding, some of the finished bikes are sold and the project's bike engineers also provide competitively-priced repairs and servicing to cyclists in their local communities.

With such encouraging results from such a seemingly simple project, it's not surprising that other areas of the country are now looking at the Common Wheel bike project as a template for similar activities in their own areas.

To watch a short video about the project and how it helps people with mental health issues, click here.

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