We are a volunteer-run community bicycle project that repairs, reuses and re-homes unwanted bikes. We receive unwanted bicycles from the public, and with the help of our project-users , we fix them up to put them back on the road. Our project-users then get to take that bicycle away with them. The project operates on a referral system. Initially, we worked with refugees and asylum-seekers alongside Bristol Refugee Rights in Easton and whilst continuing to work closely with them, we have since also expanded our targeted groups to work with a growing cross-section of underprivileged and marginalised groups in Bristol.
Three hour long, one-to-one workshop sessions, overhauling and refurbishing donated bikes, teaching individuals basic mechanical skills in the process of earning their bicycle. This scheme emphasises empowerment and self-reliance rather than charity, and involves practical, hands-on engagement that functions as a bonding process between owner and bicycle. To date, almost 400 bikes have been thus earned and saved from landfill.
Open Repair Days
This is for ongoing maintenance of returning bikes from our ‘Earn-a-Bike’ Scheme. When providing bicycles to underprivileged groups, we acknowledge our responsibility to provide a point of call to assist with future needs, from routine service to damage caused by an accident; bicycles that are used for transport require regular servicing. This enables our project-users to continue using their bikes in the long term, even if they cannot afford the costs of maintenance themselves. Our free repair workshop now sees a constantly-growing fleet of bicycles returning for repairs (punctures more than anything!), and allows for socialising and follow-up, as well as teaching more in-depth tasks. The Repair Workshop day is on a Wednesday and is run by two or three core volunteers, on a drop-in basis and no appointment is necessary.
Workshop Sessions For Supported Volunteers
Over the last two years, a few of our project-users have discovered a new passion for bike mechanics and have come back regularly to learn more and help others. Recently, we have been receiving more and more enquiries from various organisations, such as NHS occupational therapy clinics, about volunteering opportunities for individuals that they support. As such, we have developed a new service, allowing recovering substance-users, people with mental health problems or learning difficulties to volunteer with us in a positive, safe and supportive environment. Each one of these volunteers is supported by one of our core group of more experienced volunteers to learn more skills and prepare bikes for our Earn-a-Bike workshops. This activity allows project-users who benefited from our services initially by working on and receiving a bicycle, to return to the workshop and to donate their time and skills back into the project, making this a very cyclical and sustainable model.
Young People’s Bike Program
A pilot-project that was created in early 2010 to answer a demand for a growing number of young people who were not responding to other extra-curricular activities to engage them back into learning. The overwhelming success resulted in the development of a curriculum and six-week mechanic/maintenance courses.
Another activity that evolved as a result of popular demand, the Ladies’ Sessions attempt to break the male-dominated demographics which are so often associated with bicycle mechanics. A women-only space allows a supportive learning environment, encouraging and relaxed atmosphere and self-led teaching through skill-sharing and socialising. As well as teaching sustainable practices of refurbishing and fixing to reduce consumption, the knowledge gained through these informal gatherings provides tools to cope with intimidating scenarios in traditional bike shops. These are open, drop-in sessions.
Our Environmental Benefits
As well as our obvious work to promote cycling and make it accessible to various groups in society, we contribute to carbon-emission cuts in many ways. We prefer to promote reducing consumption and re-using over recycling. In the last two years, our operation prevented 400 bikes from being sent to landfill, and put them back on the road instead. Bikes beyond repair have been stripped for parts that can be re-used on other bikes. Perished tyres and inner tubes were given to other groups and individuals, to be made into handbags, furniture, artwork and more. Only then, the remaining parts and frames were sent to be recycled. Our stated aim is to allow underprivileged groups in Bristol to cycle. We have gradually increased our scope and now work with many more demographics of people, providing advice, knowledge and skills as well as bikes. Our positive impact has spread quickly and widely throughout the city, and we are constantly approached by new organisations and individuals, who have heard of us by word of mouth.
Reaching The Public
The friendly, inclusive and casual atmosphere in our workshop appeals to many people who have felt alienated in more institutional environments. We consider the values of respect, non-judgemental attitude and empowerment fundamental to our work. Our eco-impacts can be divided into two categories. The first consists of the promotion of sustainable transport (cycling) among groups that do not already cycle, by providing bikes that have been saved from landfill and refurbished; the second consists of supporting existing cycling communities by offering maintenance skills and resources, otherwise not within financial reach, which reduce consumption by encouraging the refurbishment and use of second-hand parts, and refurbishing, rather than replacement, of serviceable bikes. As well as working with people referred to us through approximately 30 agencies and organisations, we engage in public outreach work.
We have provided free bike maintenance stalls at public events such as the St Werburghs City Farm Fair, Refugee Rights Day in Queen’s Square and the re-opening of St Pauls Adventure Playground, thus increasing awareness of the project and what we set out to do. Our reputation amongst our project-users often encourages people who have heard of us through word of mouth to contact us directly, and we maintain a policy that allows self-referral and addresses needs on an individual basis.