Under the Deptford train arches, nestled between multiple MOT garages and artists’ studios, a social enterprise is helping build community connections through cycling.
The Bike Project works with refugees and asylum seekers, providing a free mode of transport in the form of a refurbished bike.
Volunteer Coordinator James Webb says “Once we give someone a bike, it’s for life. They can bring it in for a free service or repairs at any time.” They also receive a full set of safety gear like a helmet and a bike lock to keep them and their new bike safe and secure.
At the heart of The Bike Project’s ethos is the simple idea that cycling can be used to open opportunities to connect people. Having access to a bike grants the ability to get out and about, access services and increase chance to meet and make friends in the local community. So far, The Bike Project has matched 5576 people with a bike of their own.
Through funding from The National Lottery Community Fund, the project runs a workshop to help people learn skills and maintain and look after their new bikes. “We run a 4-week bike workshop, it’s quite informal” says James. “We run over things like how to approach a bike in a stand, how to start work and start repairing it. They can build skills and build confidence and that is what we’re here for,” he continues.
A core group of volunteers work with participants to give them one to one support, and many people who have gone through the free course continue to volunteer their time to the project.
In the Deptford workshop, hundreds of donated bikes are stacked together, ready to be matched to a new owner, or worked on and restored. The walls are lined with spare parts, tools and inner tubes ready to be fitted onto whatever bikes come through the door to create the perfect bespoke bikes for people who need them. “We match the bike to the person” says James.
Some of the bikes donated by members of the public are sold allowing the project to run more cycling schemes, like Pedal Power, a programme to teach basic cycling skills to women who had previously faced barriers to owning or riding a bicycle.
“We also offer more support to people who have a bike through our Bike Buddies programme. They are paired with someone in their local area who can show them some new cycle tracks and cycle with them,” James explains.
What may seem a simple act is having tremendous effects on people’s lives.
At the back of the workshop, a painted office door is covered in handwritten thank you messages from people who have walked through the doors. One message sums up the Bike Project’s work: Thank you so much – The bikes are life changing.