London Archives - The Bike Project

Jem and Silla

Our founder Jem: In the papers for all the right reasons

Our founder Jem has spent the last week blushing. Rather wonderfully, he’s featured in The Evening Standard’s Top Ten People Shaping London’s Future. Here’s what they had to say about Jem:

“Being named Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneur of the Year in 2015 was acknowledgment that Jem Stein’s simple idea for getting asylum-seekers on two wheels is working. Based in Denmark Hill, The Bike Project workshop receives donations of second-hand bikes, then repairs and distributes them to people seeking asylum in the UK. So far more than 1,000 refugees have benefited from his scheme, saving money on transport costs in the capital.

The project employs a refugee as a full-time bike mechanic and offers bike-maintenance workshops. It also runs women-only cycling proficiency classes.”

There are 9 other wonderful people featured in the article, and you can read the full thing over at The Evening Standard’s website.

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.

Silla: A Volunteer’s story

Silla and Jem

Silla with Jem, The Bike Project founder. Photo by James Sharrock.

Silla is an amazing bloke. A skilled carpenter, he can build a house from the floor up. A brilliant storyteller, he can tell a tale in four different languages. And since he began volunteering with The Bike Drop three years ago, he can fix any bike up, too.  This is his story.

“I heard about The Bike Drop from The Red Cross. When I went for the first time, I found it very helpful. I couldn’t afford transport when I was studying.”

With only £36 a week to live on and prohibited from working, not being able to afford transport is the norm for asylum seekers. It makes a bike essential.

“There weren’t enough bikes the first time I went, but I was told if I kept coming to the drop in sessions to help, I could find the bike of my dreams. One day I got lucky. I got a bike, and then I kept coming as a volunteer.

I find it so exciting the way The Bike Project have been helping refugees and asylum seekers. As an asylum seeker, if someone doesn’t know you, they don’t talk to you. Volunteering here is the place to forget that, to meet people and have a little laugh.

You make friendships here. I don’t see everyone at The Bike Project as friends, they’re family.

We still need volunteers to fix bikes and help. You’ll learn something new and make new friends.”

 

We’d love for you to join Silla and the rest of us every Thursday from 4:45 – 8pm at 12 Crossthwaite Avenue, Denmark Hill, SE5 8ET. You can help fix up bikes, match helmets and bike lights to people, or just be a friendly face to greet everyone. If you’re interested or have any questions, please get in touch here.

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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Remember all profits go towards keeping refugees cycling!

Jem and Silla

Thank you!

 

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