Not only are cycling numbers up across the country but the number of social ventures putting bikes to good use seems to be growing as well
Cycling in London has been booming since the turn of the century. Between 2001 and 2011 the number of people cycling to work in the capital doubled. It's not just London either – in the same period Brighton, Bristol, Sheffield, Newcastle and Manchester all saw an increase of 80%, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS). The introduction of Boris Bikes (or more properly, TFL Cycle Hire) has also helped put bums on seats in the big smoke – there were over 10 million hires in 2014.
These cycling stats have been given less column inches than another marked increases that the public will certainly be aware of – for example the 60,000 refugees that have entered the United Kingdom in the hope of successfully appealing for asylum since 2012.
The Bike Project
What, you might very reasonably ask, do refugee statistics have to do with cycling? Step forward Jem Stein, with his charity, The Bike Project. Since forming in 2013, The Bike Project has donated over 300 bikes to refugees. Jem’s aim is to get all refugees cycling. With almost all refugees prevented from working during their asylum application process, they rely on a mere £36 a month to survive. The more of that money they can save when travelling to buy food, access healthcare, information or laywers, the better. Rather than having to pay to reach these places, The Bike Project gives each individual a free restored bike which can save an estimated £1000 a year.
The Bike Project fits perfectly with what the government are trying to achieve in London in terms of the environment, welfare and public health. It also tackles other issues such as social deprivation in migrant communities and encourages the integration of refugees and asylum seekers into wider societies. However, the service doesn't end there. After escaping their own countries, refugees often arrive with limited skills. The Bike Project tries to change this by offering weekly workshops in how to ride a bike and basic bike maintenance.
Also striving to promote social inclusion and active living is Bikeworks – a social enterprise that has been operating since September 2006. Founders Jim Blakemore, Zoe Portlock and Dave Miller envisioned cycling bringing positive change to people with disadvantaged lives. They too offer bike maintenance courses at their two training centres, as well as a store located in east London, alongside major funders in the shape of Barclays and Halfords.
Jim and Zoe have reached thousands of people through Bikeworks services. One example of the way it has done this is to bring affordable cycling back to those who are living with physical or mental health issues. This has been achieved through their range of adapted bikes, including adult tricycles. With an Active People Survey last year suggesting that up to 72% of disabled people take part in no physical activity, any attempt to inject some casual exercise into the lives of those less physically able must surely be a good thing.
The last of our cycling trio is located in north London. The founder of Camden's Your Bikehad an unusual entry into the cycling business – he used to sell on stolen bikes. As a teenager Amir Miah would buy stolen bikes at a cheap price and fix them up before selling them on, making up to £200 profit each time. Through this he developed a passion for both bikes and entrepreneurship.
Initially named after the youth club where it was based, the Surma Bike Project evolved into Your Bike at the end of 2014. The company employs and helps young people not in education, employment or training or those vulnerable to gang crime and violence. They do this by training them as bike mechanics and putting them to work in their shop, therefore giving them skills with which they might go on to find other jobs.
All three of the social enterprises mentioned have opportunities for volunteering and training available on their websites. Should you have a bike gathering dust in your shed, any one of them can take it off your hands and put it back to use. With social ventures like these thriving in the capital, the relationship between cycling and social impact in the UK seems to be going from strength to strength.
The above article by Will Sandy first published on pioneerspost.com in 2015.