PEDALLING through the stubble at dusk, with bats flitting in and out of the hedgerows, a striking view of Southend’s nocturnal townscape appears across the fields, revealing the unexpected beauty of the town by night.

Discoveries like this are just one of the benefits of a project that has sparked a quiet revolution across Southend as hundreds of people have got back on their bikes for both pleasure and commuting.

Run by Southend Council, Cycle Southend organises a range of different events, from stunt displays to road safety classes and the increasingly popular Back in the Saddle rides, which aim to help people fall back in love with two-wheeled travel.

I joined one of the free guided rides, which take place on weekday evenings and weekends at locations across the town, to find out more about the scheme, and quickly found myself hooked.

Ride leader Richard Twomey, who is also cycle promotions manager at the council, said: “The project brings together people with shared interests, from all different backgrounds.

“The scheme is a great way for people to get back into cycling and also improve their lives.”

Launched in 2008, the Cycle Southend project received a £3.2million grant from the Government which was matched by Southend Council, with the cash put to use for everything from new cycle paths to rolling out the Bikeabilty cycle safety scheme to every primary school in the borough.

Another part of the project is the Re-Cycle Centre, in Progress Road, Eastwood, where old and broken bikes are brought back to life and sold at low prices, often to group ride participants.

Phil Drumm, a printer who lives in Glenwood Avenue, Eastwood, has been riding with the Back in the Saddle group for about seven weeks and has been feeling fitter and healthier thanks to the sessions.

The 47-year-old said: “Going out with the group certainly helps keep you motivated. Since I started riding again I go almost every night and it’s made a real difference.”

Lawrence Adams, 19, of Windermere Road, Southend, has been attending rides for a month.

He said: “The rides get me out and about, and are great for meeting new people who also enjoy bike riding. It also helps me improve my riding, which is a skill for life.”

Other fans of the project are Edward Hayden, 45, and his son Kieran, 13, who travel from their home in Shillingstone, Shoebury, to take part in group rides across Southend.

Mr Hayden, a project manager at Southend Council, said: “The rides are the best thing ever.

“This group is so convenient and so well organised. We go on such great rides. The way it’s set up means you can accommodate it alongside your working life and family life.”

“The leaders are great and will always wait for people and make sure everyone can keep up.

“For me, it’s one of the best services the council gives.”

Kieran, a pupil at St Thomas More school, in Westcliff, got his bike from the project for just £40.

He said: “I think the group is great. I love it because you get to cycle twice a week and it helps you keep fit.”

Jennie Thompson, of Hawkwell Chase, Hawkwell, has been going out with the group since June and uses the rides to relax after a hard day’s work at a freight forwarding company in Tilbury.

Miss Thompson, 28, said: “I love riding in the woods. It’s great fun and is something I’d never do on my own.

“The group is great because it’s free and it saves you going to the gym. A mixed-sex gym can be quite intimidating, but this isn’t. It’s great fun and you are also making friends at the same time.”

The next Back in the Saddle Ride takes place at 7pm on Tuesday, September 28, and will be leaving from Leigh station, off Belton Way West, Leigh.

For more information call 01702 215338.