With people advised against taking public transport in the present health crisis, the humble bicycle has once again seen a resurgence in popularity across the UK as the transport solution for everyday local journeys for the masses.
We recently spoke to Mark Seymour who with a team of volunteers to deliver the Newport Refugee Bike project, a fantastic local grass roots community initiative.
The Sanctuary refugee project started back in 2008 and is based at the Gap Centre, on Stow Hill, Newport to provide support for the local asylum seeker and refugee community. we are open 5 days a week and three evenings, providing social activities and support for people fleeing war and persecution in their own land ( Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Darfur ) We noticed a number of our project participants were keen to get involved in a project that allowed them to roll up their sleeves and work with their hands to repair bikes. So two years ago, we started a weekly bike repair activity which has become a popular and essential part of our weekly activities.
Life as an asylum seeker is not easy; you are unable to earn an income and have to rely on a very small daily allowance of £5 a day, which would barely cover bus fare to go to the shops or head to college or the library. For us bicycles made perfect sense as a project that utilised our user’s skill and free time to really make a difference.
Using bikes donated to the group and a small amount of funding we were able to move out of our car park – which was at times very cold and wet - and set up a small workshop at St Paul’s Church in Bridge Street to teach the basics of bike repairs. Our group members would meet once a week to work together, but most importantly the impact upon their wellbeing has been significant as they regain a sense of usefulness and purpose through working with others on the bikes, learning a new skill that would benefit their new life. Once the bikes were finished, we would then allow the volunteer to take a bike and use it for themselves to get around our city for free. Alternatively, we make them available to families within our group to use to support cycling and active travel in Newport. We take a very participatory approach – everyone helps out in any way they can, often 3 or 4 working together to fix one bike. Out of 10 bikes we make approximately 9, recycling parts from bike to bike.
We have also benefitted from a weekly session with Newport Wastesavers, who have supported us by running a weekly coaching course for us at their bike repair workshop – their mechanic teaches our volunteers how to fix their bikes, we then put those skills into practise in our own bike repair sessions. We have fundraised to provide a free D lock with each bike, and have just started selling a few refurbed bikes through the Wastesavers shop to pay for the free locks and consumables. Whilst our project focus is on providing bikes for refugees on low incomes, we want to see affordable, safe working bikes available to everyone who would like one, and reduce repairable bikes going to landfill.
Last year the project gave 143 bikes to the refugee community including bike locks whilst also carrying out repairs on 190 others to keep the community cycling. Earlier this year when cycling into the city centre I noticed that of the 10 bikes locked to the cycle stand 8 were ones that we had provided. Seeing this sort of impact has just been amazing. The impact upon mental and physical health has been enormous, for our volunteers and for the bike recipients, as well as giving a quick form of transport around Newport.
COVID-19 has had a big impact on the work our group can undertake, we have seen our workshop close and with many of our users at increased risk of catching the virus it’s been hard to keep up with the increased demand but we continue to do what we can to support our community. Many of our refugees have cycled daily on the cycle paths and to the shops to cope with the isolation of lockdown. We have just started doing mobile bike repairs, and am kitting out 2 volunteers with bike repair kits – inner tubes, brake blocks, hand pump, spanners etc – they will cycle with a rucksack to carry out repairs to our refugees’ bikes around Newport.
Moving forward and coming out from a pandemic we need to new space in which to work, with possible weekly satellite pop up groups operating across the area to support the refugees and wider community to continue to cycle. People with some time to spare to help carry out basic bike repairs, and donations of bikes, or bits of bike, in any condition are much appreciated!
Welsh Cycling's local Development Officer had this to say about the project- "I’ve been involved with the project for a short time but determined that the great work by all the volunteers involved is recognised and rewarded with the support they need to secure the project. So many more people are being welcomed to Wales by providing a cheap and green mode of transport to discover more on what our country has to offer."
The group have worked alongside other local bike recycling projects to share resources and help each other get the bikes to the people who need them. If any of our Welsh Cycling members may be able to help with donations of bikes and tools you can contact the team below.
Telephone : 07503 079316