Imogen Pettitt: Bikes to Calais


We arrived in Calais late in the evening, it was warm, dry and there
was hope in the air. In the camp, there were a lot of people milling around or
gathered in the larger shelters with electric light & camp kitchens. I
was nervous, I didn’t know what language to speak or what to say or
do. I only saw two women and a handful of children in the camp. I am a
short, middle-aged white woman with blue hair. My life is safe,
no-one is trying to kill me. I am not used to being part of such a
tiny minority.  Men are in more danger in some countries, and so only
men have had to flee. In others both men and women are being
pressganged and the balance is different accordingly. In others the
most mobile members of the family have been sent ahead to try and get
papers, get money, then send for the family. Women are often less
mobile as they tend to have kids with them. There are 3000 people
in the camp, only a tiny proportion of women and children have made it
this far.

I wish that arriving in Calais was the end of their troubles but
apparently there are four different types of French police who
regularly harass the camp – but it’s better than whichever type of
hell they’ve fled from.

It’s also hard to believe that a camp of 3000 people, with only 30
toilets and very little dry space could feel safe and secure, and better
than wherever you’ve come from. I’m used to camping, I’m a bit of an
outdoorsy person, I quite like roughing it – when I’ve got the right
kit and I also have the luxury of knowing that I can go home if
something goes wrong. But with the wrong kit, in an unfamiliar
environment, on soggy sand-dunes, in a different country – different
story. Someone commented that “It’s like Glastonbury!” referring to
the sea of tents and the people milling around in the dark, the music
coming out of the tents, the smells of cooking. There are even shops
open. People flee because of all sorts of reasons, but the lack of business
sense is not necessarily one of them. All of these produced a momentary and
shallow similarity, but the optimism and excitement in Calais is
completely different – these people are survivors, they have made it
this far and who knows, they might be able to escape Calais later that
night! I can’t speak for the friendly, chatty people I met but they
seemed glad to meet me and wanted to talk, I wish I’d had more time.
They must be filled with such huge optimism to have kept up the
strength to get this far and every evening they try to get further.
For some maybe simply being away from the trouble of home is enough to
cheer them, or maybe it’s the daily hope that they’ll be out of here
before morning. Either way, everyone who was able to speak to me was
super-friendly. Others either don’t have the language or just look
absolutely shattered.

That night it rained. The sheet lightning went on for so long I
thought it might be a lighthouse or something from the industrial area
but no, it was the warning of a huge storm coming. When it hit, I was
scared. The rain was torrential and the thunder seemingly unending
growls. I didn’t sleep that night. The mood at the camp was different
the next day – if I couldn’t sleep in the relative security of my van,
how must it have been in a makeshift shelter? When it rains, it can
take a little while for the water to find its way down slope. The camp
in Calais is on flat ground, sandy. It was dry when I arrived and I
was glad. I didn’t need to put on my wellies but water found its way
slowly over the next few hours and days until huge patches of the camp
were underwater. Washed out tents. Ponds surrounding. And only 30
toilets for 3000 people. I know that if I had to walk 7k every time I
needed the loo, I’d probably go find somewhere closer. But if everyone
did that… and then the area flooded – that potentially means 3000
people living in raw sewage. I hope they have higher standards and more
forethought than I would have shown.

Some months ago I heard that the camp had been moved 7k out of town,
but it was only when I got the bus to Germany and saw just how far out
of town it was that the information sunk in. It’s so far away that
no-one travelling in or out of the Calais ports is reminded of the
terrifying state of the world, it seemed like an almost complete magic
trick. It was only because I was looking for them that I saw the
hundreds of tents, hidden in the sand dunes. It hit me then that they
were miles away from anything they would need to improve their
situation, miles from the charities and offices they’d need if they
wanted to do the paperwork for an asylum claim, miles from medical
help, miles from public phones/sim card shops, food shops, anything.
The constant walking would get exhausting. This, of course, is the
point. The British government pressured the Calais authorities to move
the refugee camp as far away from the channel tunnel entrance as
possible, thus creating a situation of  ‘conspiratory manslaughter’. It
has undoubtedly made these peoples’ lives much harder to be so far from
everything they are trying to do including trying to  climb the fence
onto British soil from which some return bloodied and bruised
everynight. There are so many people walking around with injuries,
crutches are one of the items most requested by Medecin du Monde.

This is why I took bikes. I’d build them a house if I could but I am
not a builder. I’d lobby the government but I don’t know how. I
remember how exhausting it was walking everywhere with my young son and
how much easier life became when I got a bike. There are so many
obstacles stacked in front of these people – inadequate shelter,
language barriers, trauma, insufficient medical attention and
sanitation, forcing people to walk 7k in and out of town whenever
they have a hoop to jump through is just cruel.

A bike is the only bit of freedom I can give these refugees and I give
it wholeheartedly. Bon voyage!

If you can donate bikes, parts or tools, please bring them The Bristol Bike Project, 7 City Road. We are not currently collecting clothes or bedding.




From London cycle courier to worldwide adventurer, Emily Chappell has discovered a world that exists outside of Zone 1. She’s passionate about her bike and it is this passion that has taken her across the world and most recently to Alaska to ride across the snow in the middle of winter. This talk is a must for pedal heads, adventurers and anyone who just wants to be inspired!

Wednesday 15th April – Bristol 7.30pm at Ellis Brigham. Book your tickets here!

The Printing Bike Project

A great new project from pals of ours, Nick Hand and Robin Mather. Go on and give them a helping hand here won’t you?!

Wheels & Reels!

wheels & reels

Join us for what looks to be a fabulous event as part of this year’s Bristol Cycle Festival, at the Uk’s oldest cinema, the Curzon in Clevedon, on Saturday 12th July. More info here and join the facebook page here. See you there!

New Bike Kitchen Sunday Session


Due to popular demand we will be starting a new Bike Kitchen session this coming Sunday, June 22nd, from 2-6pm. The aim of this session is for the workshop to be open to those who already have sufficient bicycle maintenance skills to utilize the workshop in order to repair, maintain or build their own bikes.

Up to 1 hour : £4  /  Up to 2 hours : £6  /  Up to 3 hours : £8  /  Up to 4 hours : £10

We have a small selection of new parts and lots of second-hand and reconditioned parts at very reasonable prices! More info here. See you there!

Chase the Sun!


Feeling cycle strong? Fancy celebrating the start of the Summer and the longest day of the year on June 21st? Then this 200 mile, yes 200 mile, ride across the breadth of the UK is for you. Just don’t forget your padded shorts.

Les Velobici Update: The Ring-of-Fire!

Like all the best ideas, this started as a joke but Les Velobici, the Bristol Bike Project’s Performance Wing, have no brakes when it comes to opportunities to injure themselves.

Despite a trip to Minor Injuries with a member BBP’s dedicated staff team during ‘Research & Development’, they ploughed on and made a RING-OF-FIRE!!!

It’s inaugral outing was at Howies Dyfi Enduro 2014 in Machynlleth, Mid-Wales where the dedicated stunt team bravely faced the flames – here is new father and charity campaigner ‘Big Ring’ taking the jump on Lottie, a fetching pink 16″ mini-bike.

Join Les Velobici by emailing

Les Velobici star, Big Ring, tackles the Ring-of-Fire!

Les Velobici star, Big Ring, tackles the Ring-of-Fire

The Politics of Print


Our pals at The Letterpress Collective have a fabulous show on at the moment called The Politics of Print, an exhibition celebrating the power of words in letterpress printing, running from 10-6pm until this Wednesday evening at the wonderful Centrespace Gallery. Definitely worth a look!

New Short Film about the Project

The Bristol Bike Project from The Bristol Bike Project on Vimeo.

A group of 14 budding film makers on a Prince’s Trust course teamed up with The Bristol Bike Project to produce a documentary celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Stokes Croft-based community bike workshop. The environmental film was created as part of a three-week Truth about Youth course, which helps local unemployed young people gain the skills and confidence they need to find work, while highlighting the positive contribution that young people make to the community.

Havana Bikes

Havana Bikes from Kauri Multimedia on Vimeo.

A lovely little 5 minute short that got sent our way just now.
Check out the wheel truing stand at 3.03, wowzers, whatta hunk!