Be Inspired Series
Travelwise NI sustainable travel co-ordinator
Northern Ireland Civil Service
Michael has been in the Northern Ireland Civil Service for over 35 years and have been working within Travelwise NI for four years. He completed a business degree, part-time, at the University of Ulster.
What does your role involve?
I work for Travelwise NI, a team within the Department for Regional Development tasked with promoting Northern Ireland's sustainable travel agenda.
My job involves promoting sustainable transport options such as walking, cycling, public transport and car sharing to commuters, schools and employers.
I am part of the team behind Bike Week which was a real success this year and helped highlight the numerous health, financial and environmental benefits associated with cycling.
This year's events included Bike to Work Day, which rewarded participants with a well-deserved breakfast at Belfast City Hall, and the ever-popular MLA cycling event where local politicians got the chance to show their support for sustainable transport by 'saddling up' for a bike ride at Stormont.
We've are also been working with local councils and partners to organise cycling events across the whole of Northern Ireland for people of all cycling abilities.
How did you get into the position in the first place?
I have been in the Northern Ireland Civil Service for over 35 years and have been working within Travelwise NI for four years. Without a doubt it's one of the most varied roles I have had to date.
Along with supporting and promoting the Bike Week initiative I am responsible for providing a free sustainable travel consultancy service to organisations that are keen to develop Workplace Travel Plans. I also have responsibility for www.carshareni.com , Northern Ireland’s official car sharing website, which was created to connect car users to help minimise travel costs and alleviate congestion and pollution.
Did you always want to work in this sector in some capacity?
I was always keen to work for Northern Ireland's Civil Service as it offers a diverse range of challenging roles.
Over recent years sustainable travel has really shot up Northern Ireland's political agenda and I was eager to get involved with shaping the Department for Regional Development's strategy which aims to get the public to consider the impact of their behaviours on the environment.
I have always been an advocate of sustainability and try to incorporate it into my everyday life. The fact that petrol prices are sky high also motivates me to car-share as often as possible!
What training or previous experience do you have that has helped you in your current role?
I have a business degree from the University of Ulster that I obtained as a part-time student, studying in Jordanstown in the evenings after work. To be honest I think the attribute that counts most in my job is passion and enthusiasm to do a worthwhile job - I am passionate about protecting the environment for future generations and I enjoy educating the NI public about the benefits of green travel.
It's amazing that some people don't realise the personal benefits that can be gained by swapping the car for a bike even if it's only once a week – it cuts down on petrol and parking costs and helps to keep you fit, healthy, and happy!
What is your organisation's role in the local community?
Travelwise works with various partners across the community, including local councils, local businesses, public sector bodies and schools. Our objective is to spread the word about sustainable travel highlighting the financial benefits, environmental benefits and of course the health benefits of choosing active travel.
And how does your role fit in as part of this?
My role is about providing the local community with support and advice on how to adopt more sustainable practices into their daily lives. As an organisation Travelwise NI does this through various initiatives including Walk to School Week, Bike Week and Travelwise Week.
You will also find me out and about meeting with different public and private sector organisations providing advice on Workplace Travel Plans and looking for opportunities to promote the sustainable travel messages.
What sort of personality and qualities do you need to do your job successfully?
In order to do my job successfully you need to be a good and convincing communicator to help people realise the benefits of green travel. It’s also important to be genuinely passionate about sustainability and to be determined in order to contribute to long-term change.
What are the biggest rewards of the job? And the biggest challenges?
I believe that my job is worthwhile and can really benefit society as a whole. The car is an important part of our lives and our economy but we have all come to rely on it to too much.
Our communities suffer from traffic congestion and we suffer from lack of exercise caused by too many of us depending on cars for even short journeys.
The reward is knowing that I am changing attitudes bit by bit; the challenge is knowing that behavioural or cultural change is a long-term project and won't happen overnight.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
Find out what you're passionate about and then make a living out of it - that way you'll always be motivated to do your best.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do the same job?
You need to be determined, committed and be a good multi-tasker to do this job. With any job I think it can be easy to get bogged down in every-day tasks but it is much more rewarding and life-fulfilling if you can focus on the things that you enjoy about your work, look for opportunities to succeed and give it your all!
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I enjoy walking, usually in the Cavehill Country Park in Belfast, and am also an avid reader. I always have a stack of books waiting to be read.
I also do a bit of voluntary work - I used to spend a lot of my free time involved with Ballysillan Gymnastics Club where I was a gymnastics coach, judge, fund-raiser and bus-driver. I had great adventures with some amazing coaches and kids.
More recently I have been involved with my wife in fundraising for the NI Cancer Fund for Children, which I find very rewarding.