The UK charity sending bikes to Africa

Across the UK millions of bikes are thrown away or left to rust in sheds while millions of people in Africa are forced to walk for hours each day. Re~Cycle is the original and largest charity in the UK sending bikes to Africa.

While Merlin Matthews was studying management at the London School of Economics (LSE), he became Dr Bike. This was a Student Union Society, handed down through the generations, teaching people to fix bikes in exchange for beers, on Friday evenings.

A Haitian lady approached him for some advice and help about starting up a bike factory in Haiti, as she had seen the need for cheap, pollution free transport for the masses. Merlin decided it was such a good idea that he offered to help.

He then realised that there are lots of bikes being thrown away which could be fixed. He was going to set up this project on his own and envisaged getting a "process" established in the UK, then spending most of his time in Haiti running the workshop. Over time, Merlin realised that he would be of more use to the Haitians and people in other countries if he spent most of the time in the UK, fund-raising, sorting out the bikes and shipping them.

Now Re~Cycle's bikes get shipped all over Africa, which is such a huge place that the USA, China and all of Europe could fit in it!

The first really big break came when Re~Cycle found out about that a US charity called the ITDP had been doing the same work in Haiti for 10 years. As they were a non-profit organization, we decided to work with them and learn from their extensive experience.

The ITDP asked if we would like to send a container of bikes to South Africa. Re~Cycle and ITDP helped to set up an independent South African charity, Afribike, which delivered Phase 1 of the National Department of Transport's nationwide bicycle program, "Shova Kalulua" (Pedal Easy) setting up 11 workshops, with a focus on Kwa Zulu Natal and the Northwest Province.

Our first storage place was a donation by Colne Housing Association, who were waiting to develop a large warehouse. The next storage was a National Trust barn in the countryside, which was very picturesque, though a bit of a pain to get to, and separate from the office.

When we moved to Colchester in 2006 we were able to combine the office and storage bringing great advantage and a massive increase in the number of regular volunteers.

Our efforts are now focused on finding another permanant/semi permanant bike drop-off point to increase the number of bicycles that we can collect.

The above first published on