As a professional who works in community engagement for cycling projects I couldn’t help but get frustrated by the lack of service
provision for migrant communities in London, so imagine my delight
when I came across The Bike Project!
The idea of up-cycling London’s many abandoned bikes seemed perfectly
logical and the numbers really do add up. At last, there are two other people (in Jem and Sarah)
who have made the connection between welfare, public health and
environmental initiatives. Not only this but they were were navigating
and seemingly freewheeling their way through what can seem like an
over-bearing system to deliver real benefit to refugees and asylum
seekers, some of London’s most destitute and deprived.
As a new migrant learning to live in London on limited funds a bicycle
is a vital lifeline, a precondition to feeling socially included and
successfully integrating intosociety as well being of great benefit
to health and mental well being. With a bicycle a refugee can
access food, social centers, lawyers, therapy sessions, medical
appointments as well as make it to those all important reporting
meetings at Home Office (for which no provision for travel expenses is
The Bike Project is also working to break down conventional barriers
to cycling for migrant communities. Sarah is currently running a
specific cycle training session for women who may never have had the
chance to cycle before or just do not feel confident cycling on
London’s streets. This really is pioneering.
TfL have long been aware of the differences in travel behaviour
between different minority groups, reporting that that 71% of London
residents from ethnic minority backgrounds say that they ‘never’
cycle, compared to just 57% of white Londoners, not to mention that
just 28% of cycle trips are made by women!
London is crying out for more ground breaking projects like
The Bike Project which increase cycling participation. The reasoning behind low
participation can be complex varying from group to group and some
barriers are easier to overcome than others. For example, when it
comes down to a language or inability to ride this can be overcome
with the provision of information and cycle training. However, other
reasons can be that people from the most disadvantaged communities are
more likely to live in an ‘obesogenic’ environment which discourages
walking and cycling and there are a lack of role models to raise awareness and
encourage community participation. These cultural constraints are
difficult to address. For example, in Hackney, though children
received cycle training at school, this was not sufficient to
encourage them to cycle outside or to/from school because their
parents, typically non-cyclists, did not consider cycling to be a
valid or safe mode of transport.
If more outreach and advocacy work like the Bike Project
is not undertaken across London then increases in cycle trip
frequency will only come from those who already cycle (predominantly
white, British) cycling more as opposed to engaging individuals from
harder to reach communities in changing their travel behaviour. This
is not sustainable.
Cyclists and non cyclists alike know that cycling offers many other
advantages to London as a whole including cleaner air, less noise and
fewer road traffic injuries, but more importantly, individuals who
travel actively feel more connected to their local environment,
especially the green spaces where communities can converge and become
more cohesive. This, I believe is where the real benefit is for asylum
seekers and refugees as new migrants, seeking to integrate and connect
with their new society.
The Bike Project is vital to not only changing attitudes and
behaviour, but also in addressing the growing importance of social
equity for all, which it is doing one bike at a time.