Refugees Archives - The Bike Project

Become a Bike Hub

JRS Bike Hub

Becoming a Bike Hub for The Bike Project is an easy, wonderful way to support refugees and asylum seekers in London.

You can find out how to become a Bike Hub here. And to give you an idea of why it’s so brilliant, have a read of what Bike Hub hosts Jon and Jonathan have to say below.

 


 

The Jesuit Refugee Service is one of our bike donation drop off points (or Bike Hubs) and a partner in our Women’s Cycle Training scheme. We caught up with Jonathan from the JRS to hear about his experience of hosting a Bike Hub for The Bike Project.

Why did you decide to become a drop off point for The Bike Project?

“We were very happy to support The Bike Project by becoming a drop off point as we had seen how much they had motivated and encouraged our refugee friends.

The Bike Project is a wonderful initiative which continues to prove that solidarity and hospitality make our lives and communities better and more fun; I’m pretty sure that the refugee friends The Bike Project has made are a big reason for its success.”

 

What is the best thing about being a drop off point?

“Seeing our refugee friends getting around on the donated bikes, the freedom and excitement cycling uniquely allows, just shows why it is a privilege to act as a drop off point. So do join up and play your part!”

 

Do you have any advice for other centres thinking of becoming a drop off point?

“Once the racks are installed or the storage arrangements fixed, being a drop off point does not call for too much effort – though, when you’re preoccupied with something else, don’t forget to give a big ‘thank you’ and smile to the donors!”

 


 

Jon and the Finchley Reform Synagogue have supported The Bike Project for years, and recently became one of our Bike Hubs.

Why did you decide to become a drop off point for The Bike Project?

“As one of our main charity partners, FRS members have donated money towards The Bike Project for over 3 years. We also wanted to provide practical support to a charity that improves the lives of London’s refugees and asylum seekers in tangible and sustainable ways. Being a drop off point in North London has allowed many more donors to give their unwanted bikes to this valuable cause.”

 

What’s the best thing about being a drop off point?

“So many bike donors are delighted that their once-loved machines will be put to such good use. When people bring in bikes with wheels falling off, broken brakes and rusty chains, they are amazed that we will still accept the donations, as we explain that their bike could be repaired, used as a training machine, or saved for spare parts.

Most synagogues in London are surrounded by high fences and have regular visible security patrols. Although we wish to be a welcoming place, the necessary security steps sometimes give off a different impression. Many bike donors are stepping into a synagogue for the first time when they bring their bikes, and it is a great chance to have a friendly conversation and ensure those barriers are broken down.”

 

Do you have any advice for other centres thinking of becoming a drop off point?

“It really is a simple, hassle-free way of making a big difference to the quality of people’s lives in our city. The Bike Project team make it really easy to arrange pick-ups when our bike store is full. We sometimes have to turn away donors because there is no drop-off point near them, and they are unable to bring bikes to Finchley. The more drop-off points there are, the further reaching the project will become.”

 

A Little Help from our Friends…

We talk a lot about Denmark Hill and Peckham. After all, it’s where you’ll find our digs. Now perhaps it has something to do with all these bikes, but more often than not we get the urge to get out of the front door and team up with charities further afield. Here are 6 – we’d love your suggestions for other charities to team up with.

Last summer we donated 15 bikes and ran a safety session for teens at Young Roots based near Croydon.

In January we trundled to Tooting to donate 15 bikes to CARAS, a community outreach programme, and to run a safety session for teens.

At the beginning of the year, we travelled to Coventry to pair up bikes with over 30 kids.

In May we ran a fun safety session for kids at the Children’s Society in East London and donated 20 bikes.

This half term we’ve been to the Children’s Society in East London again, with another 20 bikes and a safety session.

It’s been a busy week – we also went to Asylum Welcome in Oxford to donate 15 of our fixed-up bikes.

A happy cyclist

A lovely article about refugees in The Guardian…

The Bike Project

And, extremely excitingly, we’re in it. The Guardian have highlighted the amazing stuff that asylum seekers and refugees do once they make it to Britain. Amongst the chefs, journalists and nurses, there are our very own bike mechanics and volunteers.

As Kirstie Brewer writes, ‘Since launching in 2013, the Bike Project has given away 1,800 bikes. Today it’s very busy. Volunteers and staff mill around, introducing visitors to their bikes and kitting them out with helmets, bike locks, reflective jackets and maps of London. Then they’re taken out for a spin around the neighbourhood to get acquainted with their new wheels and learn about road safety.

Maizer, a Sudanese genocide survivor, says his bike has restored some dignity and independence to his life. “It’s like I have new wings.”’

 

We’re really proud to appear alongside such amazing charities who are also helping refugees find confidence and to reach their full potential. You can read the whole article over at The Guardian.

Under the Olympic Flag

It’s not just countries that take part in the Olympics.

The games have a long tradition of politically uncertain groups participating ‘under the Olympic flag’ – newly independent countries which haven’t had time to set up a formal team, nationals of states under UN sanctions, and others.

But in Rio 2016, for the first time, there is a second group competing under the Olympic flag: the inaugural Refugee Olympic Team.

In June, organisers of the games announced that, to “act as a symbol of hope for refugees worldwide and bring global attention to the magnitude of the refugee crisis”, ten refugees would be nominated by the UN, get trained by their countries of residence, and take part, marching in the opening ceremony ahead of the host nation Brazil.

One Ethiopian, two Congolese, two Syrians and five South Sudanese are out there right now, competing – in swimming, judo and athletics.

These ten refugees, representatives of millions of refugees worldwide, were selected for their sporting abilities. The opportunity that they and the 33 others on the shortlist have had – to train in top athletic facilities around the world and tell their stories to the world at the Olympics – is extraordinary.

The opportunity to fulfill their potential is life changing for any refugee. And, as in the Olympics, The Bike Project believes being physically active can help achieve this potential – in our case by cycling to a more independent, fulfilling life.

Because the bicycles and cycling classes we deliver are life-changing. With them, refugees living in London form part of a community, can travel cheaply and effectively to legal appointments for their asylum case, to college and to friends, and gain new skills to help them settle in to their new homes.

The Refugee Olympic Team is the big picture happening in Brazil.

The Bike Project is the hands-on, oil and grease work happening on the streets of London.

If you’d like to be a part of it, we’d love you to donate a bike, sponsor a bike or donate your time.

Nadia: How she took to the road

Nadia

“Cycling can do lots of stuff for you.”

That’s The Bike Project in a nutshell, but also Nadia’s story.

Nadia came to this country from India as an asylum seeker in 2009, but last summer, something new came into her life when a refugee centre in Snaresbrook advertised a cycling course for women.

Over six months, Nadia and other refugee women from around the world met regularly to learn how to become more mobile. “At first we would take the bikes to a small park, in the basketball court. We learned brakes and gears, and signals, and the things to check for safety before getting on.”

Some of the group, including Nadia, had cycled before in their home countries, but this gave them new challenges because the rules of the road are so different from place to place.

“I was really a bit scared of roundabouts: who is allowed to go first, what the lines mean… But everyone was very patient and supported me, and now whenever I go out, even without the bike, I pay more attention and look at how the road works.

“The instructors were lovely and helped each person focus on what they needed help with.”

The learners got more confident. “We decided to go on a short ride. Then we went on longer rides. I felt very safe, and the weather was good. It makes you happy! I feel more fresh and energetic after cycling.

“And it saves travel fares, which are always so difficult if you are on benefits and have to buy groceries as well.”

Most of the women had such a good time that they kept in touch with each other after the course ended. Some went on to another course about how to maintain their bicycles – “Women Fix it” run by Otesha. And Nadia’s instructors even found her a cycling mentor near her home in East London who could continue to support her and help her build up local knowledge.

Nadia’s final message? “I really wanted to do this interview. I got so much out of The Bike Project, I would want to help in any way I can.”

Names have been changed.

Cycling Towards Syria: Calais & Dunkirk, France

Cycle to Syria

This summer, Bike Project volunteers David (hi) and Caz are cycling 2,500 miles across Europe, following the routes of migration back towards Syria. On this trip, we’re trying to learn as much as we can about the effects of migration on residents and refugees alike. Right now, we’re in Germany, having already cycled through England, France and Belgium. In this update, I’d like to tell you a bit about the migrant camps in Calais and Dunkirk, just a couple of days’ cycle from our homes in London.

We’d both visited Calais before, but Dunkirk was completely new to us and couldn’t have felt more different: the Dunkirk migrant camp is to the Calais jungle as Milton Keynes is to London. Where Calais is only now having some semblance of order imposed on its meandering medieval street plan, Dunkirk has been ordered from conception to execution.

The Dunkirk camp, the first in France built to UN standards, is around a quarter the size of the Calais jungle. It’s home to approximately 1,100 people, mostly Iraqi Kurds (~90%). This gives the camp an ethnic and cultural homogeneity that Calais, with its jumbled compounds of Eritrean, Ethiopian, Syrian, Afghan, Pakistani, Sudanese and others, will never have. (Milton Keynes compared to London again!)

The Dunkirk camp opened with the blessing of the local Green Party Mayor and is managed by Utopia, a local charity. Any charities or organisations attempting to manage the communities in Calais have basically failed. Both the recent destruction of half the vast shanty town and the construction of more comfortable container living accommodation have been met with serious opposition, including violent resistance.

But the starkest contrast between the two camps is in enterprise. In Calais there are restaurants, shops, a barbers, churches, mosques, bicycle mechanics, schools, a library, bakeries, a youth centre, a play bus, as well as the bustle of constant construction as architects and carpenters get to work building something new.

Dunkirk is a sleepy suburb in comparison. My Friend’s Cafe serves free tea and coffee and when we passed a folk band were fiddling to a full tent. But the only migrant-run businesses that I saw were a couple of roadside stalls, offering baguettes, biscuits and a few other essentials. That’s why I got quite so excited when I bumped into an Iraqi Kurd making a beehive from scavenged wood. (https://youtu.be/svzB4uFg6lQ)

The look on his face reminded me of the people I meet at The Bike Project, getting stuck into an oily old clanger. Obviously, no one would choose the life of a refugee, but it doesn’t take much to return to them a smidgen of autonomy – whether that’s the tools to fix up an ancient bike, or some scrap wood to corral some stray bees. At the very least, we should share our honey.

For regular updates on the ride, please visit www.davidcharles.info and join the mailing list.

If you’d like to support the ride, then think about donating to our Bike Project fundraiser! https://localgiving.org/fundraising/cyclingsyria

Ahmad with bike

Riding on a smile: a Syrian refugee and his bike

Riding on a smile: a Syrian refugee and his bike

Ahmad, a Syrian refugee, with his bike

Ahmad, a Syrian refugee, with his bike

 

Getting around London is expensive for everyone, let alone for a refugee living on the weekly government asylum allowance of £36.95. A London travelcard (zones 1 and 2) costs £32.10 a week.

Whilst seeking asylum, it is vital that people are able to access essential legal, medical and other support services around London, on top of paying for food and other necessities.

It’s a lot to cover with just £36.95.

This is Ahmad’s story.

Ahmad is 33 years old, and came to London a year ago after fleeing violence and persecution in his homeland, Syria. This is a plight sadly shared by over 8,000,000 Syrians since 2011.

When Ahmad arrived in London, he was a stranger in an unfamiliar city, and had no one to turn to for help and support.

For Ahmad, getting to and from important places, such as the supermarket and the doctors was a huge challenge on his meagre budget of £36.95 a week.

One evening, Ahmad attended a community support meeting and was told about The Bike Project. Given his first impressions of London, he was intrigued to hear that someone he’d never met would give him a bike for free.

After looking up The Bike Project online, he headed down to the workshop in Denmark Hill where he was greeted by ‘happy, smiling people’.

A couple of hours later, Ahmad rode away on his new bike, setting himself the rather bold target of navigating his way back to north London.

Thinking back, Ahmad tells me: ‘I felt welcome; welcome and accepted.’

From the moment his foot touched the pedal, Ahmad felt like a new man. He loved the freedom and experience of cycling around London. Importantly, Ahmad now spends the money he saves on transport, on food and other necessities.

Having a bike has given him the opportunity to experience this unique city in a personal way, instead of spending his precious allowance on transport.

Ahmad now rides up to 30 miles a day and knows London better than most of its inhabitants. He has friends in Finsbury Park, Portobello Road and Kentish Town and can now visit them regularly – he’s fit as a fiddle.

He’s also been back to The Bike Project to service his bike and to volunteer his services, helping other refugees to get a bike.

It is clear in Ahmad’s voice that having a bike has made a real difference to his life – as he himself gleefully exclaims before we say goodbye:

“I LOVE my bike!”

 

 

3 ways you can support The Bike Project and help other refugees like Ahmad:

Visit the Bike Shop

Sponsor a bike

Donate an old bike

All donations and money made from selling refurbished bikes go back into funding the Bike Project and helping more refugees.

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Jem and Silla

Thank you!

 

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