Volunteer spotlight: Joe Holtaway

There’s nothing like the feeling of being part of a beautiful network of people supporting other people.

Joe Holtaway has been a dedicated and invaluable volunteer with The Bike Project for the last 4 years. He has hosted a drop off point and collected many many bikes for us. It is because of incredible volunteers like Joe across London and Birmingham that we can get refugees and asylum seekers cycling.

We had a chat with Joe and he explains why he got involved, what he has learnt, and what he thinks should change in this country.

What do you do in your day to day life?

I do a few things; essentially; I’m a singer/songwriter and a trainee Chaplain with the Quakers. My singing and song-writing looks at peace and social justice; it sees me playing festivals and gigs, I use it in my work with children at the wonderful Quakers and also my work with people in the asylum system at incredible The Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers. I also record guided mindfulness with song that has been inspired by a beloved place called Plum Village (founded by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh) I can often be found offering these at places including festival workshops, trauma and recovery groups, retreats, protest camps and online. I also start and end the day with 30 minutes silence that I open to anyone on my zoom room.

When did you hear of The Bike Project?

I just looked this up in my mailbox and found an email from my younger self! In 2017 I joined Grove Park, a house share community in South London. We had a few bikes in the shed that were from former house mates. Mmm who could use these bikes?…search…”donate bikes”…scroll down the page and a there you were…The bike project …perfect!

What kind of volunteering have you been doing? How long have you been volunteering with The Bike Project?

4 years and I have been doing bike hub organising.

What drew you to our mission?

I love cycling, I remember my friend Daniel Gifford got me into it properly in something like 2010, I was in my 20s getting used to London life. Dan lived for bicycles – he ran a group called bicycology: fun with bikes and activism of all kinds, they would turn up at all kinds of protests as well as organising trips. I began my answer this way because Dan’s mission was always freedom I felt; freedom of movement that was accessible to anyone.

I later came to work with people in asylum system and realised this was something they had little of. The Bike Project enables that. They continue to empower those with this simple gift, some independence and freedom. To quote a client from the day centre: ”I love my bike, get me in the park and shhhwwaaa! I’m away… my troubles, for a while, are off my mind”.

Why do you like volunteering with The Bike Project?

There’s nothing like the feeling of being part of a beautiful network of people supporting other people. I want to use my time and material resources ie: house/space/access to a computer, to give to people in the system in concrete ways; it does this. I like the contact with people who come by to drop bikes, also with other members of staff: props to my buddy Dereje the kind collection driver! and also the members of comms: Yasmin, Anya, Sarah and others…

Why do you think the work The Bike Project does, is important?

Because love is important! The project enables people to look at what they have a share it and it allows people who need it have it. Essentially I think it enables something that can be lost in our society – it’s an awakening moment – I can do something, I’m going to do something!

Why do you think others should support The Bike Project?

The asylum system isn’t kind, at best it’s emotionally numb I would say. Projects like The Bike Project have identified something that really does make a difference, I can testify. They offer various ways to support, it’s worth a look.

What’s been your favourite thing about volunteering with The Bike Project?

Telling people about The Bike Project and them saying…oh I have a bike to give/my neighbour has a bike to give…

Do you like cycling? If so, what’s your favourite cycling memory?

Nice question – cycling to Holland with friends from London, we took the ferry there, camped in the dunes outside of Amsterdam and celebrated with chips on arrival!

In a perfect world, how would refugees be supported in the UK?

A great question: Compassion.

I think this question would be best answered by people seeking asylum, their wisdom and insights are where the truth resides.

For myself I would say:

I think the bar should be much much lower to decide who should be given refugee status, and this should come with a whole host of therapeutic support. I feel that no one travels such astonishing lengths to be given £40 a week with the distant hope of £100 a week to then begin to set up a life which can take years, if they didn’t have to.

If that doesn’t seem appropriate or requested, people should be welcomed into the benefits system with the chance to establish a life here. I would make interviews monitored to ensure they are conducted with respect and with a view to being supportive. I think asylum seekers should be given the right to work if they want to. I think ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ should be scrapped. Predictions are that millions more refugees are going to arrive to the UK in the coming decades. Our time of hard borders must come to an end I think. As the centre manager for Southwark Day Centre for Asylum Seekers says: “If you have more than you need, build a bigger table.”

A song for you. A client I met once said in my country we have a saying, ‘It takes A Thousand Hands’: listen to Joe’s song here

(Song credits: Joe Holtaway; violins: Sophie Lowendhal; cellos: Naomi Haigh)

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