We refurbish and donate bikes… but a bike is just the beginning. Did you know that we run weekly virtual classes for our bike recipients and volunteers? Our Cyber Cyclists programme offers everything from English lessons to HIIT workouts. Let’s meet one of our most beloved instructors, Tamara Smith.
Please introduce yourself!
I’m Tamara Smith, a yoga teacher and refugee practitioner who has worked with refugee communities in a range of contexts since 2013. In my spare time I love movement (kickboxing, running, cycling, yoga), cooking, I have terrible taste in television and my favourite meal is breakfast.
How did you first hear about The Bike Project, and how did you get involved?
I got involved with the Bike Project in 2020. During the first lockdown I was hosting free online yoga classes. These ended with a sharing circle where participants shared what was happening that week that was hard. A new attendee said “I’m an asylum seeker from Syria and I’m worrying about my family. Also, I think you should offer these sessions at The Bike Project”. That person was a volunteer at The Bike Project. We set up a meeting, talked about the project and I was in. Since the first lockdown, we’ve had a weekly (now twice a week) online class with this community.
How can your teaching benefit our Cyber Cyclists?
On a physical level, cycling is great exercise, but as with any repetitive motion over time it can take its toll on the body. Common complaints of the ailing cyclist include tight hamstrings and hips, and a sore lower back. In every class we work all these to relieve tension and create space.
Lots of Cyber Cyclists tell me it’s been scary to start cycling, especially those based in big cities. To help with this, each yoga class includes meditation tools to help calm the nervous system, which attendees practice in this space and then can use on the road when that big bus is overtaking them.
Frequently I hear from Cyber Cyclists that they’ve never done yoga before, they aren’t stretchy, they aren’t strong, they don’t have a mat, their kids are home, etc. I strongly believe that yoga is a tool that should be accessible to everyone, and that is at the heart of my teaching – movement is simple but detailed to give you new knowledge, and every class is a reminder to respect your body and let it be in charge (not me) in our sessions. For a community for whom freedom of movement has been controlled and taken away, I think space to move freely and experience rest in the body is a radical important practise.
Finally, yoga and these classes are about connection. Before we start moving, we start each class with a chat. Over the years I’ve watched friendships form between attendees, I watch regulars across the UK check in on each-other “how was that appointment, did you hear back yet, are you feeling any better?” and support each-other through a Zoom screen. Students regularly dial in on days when they can’t practice because they’re driving, on a bus or in college, but still call in because they want to connect quickly with this community. I think that relief in community is the biggest gift of this space and I can’t take credit for it – it’s built by Cyber Cyclists.
What’s your favourite Cyber Cyclists memory?
There’s way too many to choose. But the first one that comes to me was a young person I knew from another project based in London. Her family was moved to a different part of the UK, and I thought that was it – usually once people are relocated we don’t see or hear from them ever again. But one day it’s yoga class and this young person is on the call. In a new part of the UK, where the Bike Project isn’t active, but because she was a recipient in London where she could get a Bike and be added to the yoga list, and because class is online, geography didn’t matter and she stayed connected. Over the months to come she’d show up to class, her parents would show up, she’d call and show us her new classroom as we witnessed her English become confident and her blossoming in her new life. Being able to bear witness to that kind of miraculous building of a new life against all odds, and provide some space for rest and celebration – that’s my favourite thing about this project.
In an ideal world, how would refugees be supported in the UK?
In an ideal world, refugees would have access to safe and legal routes to claiming asylum in the UK which would prevent persecuted people from having to endure such terrifying journeys. Our media would report on migration and asylum from a fact-based perspective, creating a widespread awareness across the country that people have always moved, that the UK has always needed migrants and that refugees have a right to sanctuary. The general public and politicians would be clear on this and take pride in providing sanctuary and support to people who need it.
Refugees would be provided with support such as housing and benefits in line with British nationals, but support would go beyond these basics – we would also allow asylum seekers to work and study while their claim is being assessed, in order to enable people to autonomously build new lives and flourish as fast as possible. Support would also include holistic services such as counselling, yoga, access to gyms. These are some of the activities that keep people sane who can afford them (they certainly keep me sane), but are considered a luxury for marginalised communities. Rest and feeling good in your body and spirit should be a priority in the support we provide to refugees – I am proud of The Bike Project for prioritising this.
Get involved with Cyber Cyclists!
If you’re a Bike Project volunteer or have ever received a free bike from us, you are welcome to join our Cyber Cyclists programme. See the timetable and join here.
If you have a skill to teach or share with our community, please register your volunteering interest using this form and tick ‘Cyber Cyclists volunteering’ under ‘What type of volunteering are you interested in?’