Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Building a bicycle club

September 27 2009
A new project teaching bike maintenance and safety has gained a passionate following A new project teaching bike maintenance and safety has gained a passionate following. "It's a company that's running right, and for the right people," Glenn Bernard (pictured) says, looking round the workshop proudly. "I wish the council would work like this, too. They should look at how it's done here and work like this. They won't, though - it's a shame". There are many people like Mr Bernard at the east London Bikeworks, a bike shop, cycle project, social enterprise and training centre. Homeless since he lost his business and house a few years back, he lives in a hostel and hates it. But, he says: "When I come here, it fits. It fits like a glove, you know." Seven people recently qualified as cycle trainers from Bikeworks's new training and employment initiative for people who are homeless. During the three-month work-based course, participants get accredited qualifications in national standards bicycle mechanics and cycle instruction. Everyone who completes the course leaves with their own set of tools and a whole new set of employment prospects. Graduates can go on to find work fixing bikes and helping to teach children and adults the rules of the road. Neil Thompson, 48, has just finished the first course during which he was teaching groups of 7-9-year-old school children how to cycle safely. This included showing them good positioning on the road, emergency stops and how to look for hazards. "It's good work," he says, clearly looking forward to being employed again. "And it pays more than fixing bikes alone. I used to be a painter and decorator but I haven't done it for the past four or five years and it's really difficult to get work again." Everyone's enthusiasm for the project is obvious and there is a real sense of teamwork. Thompson explains: "Everyone always learns to work together. The only difficulty is when some people can't speak the same language, but then we help them. When they have a problem, they can ask us and we write it down. So it helps them learn English too". Mr Bernard is also full of praise for the project: "People might come here with problems, but they can change and channel that energy in the right direction. One step at a time, they can become a person again." Bikeworks runs as a social enterprise, which means all profits earned through the bike shop, maintenance service and cycle lessons are put back in to fund the courses and provide bikes. Also available are ‚Äö?Ñ??Build a Bike' courses, where participants make a bike from scratch. They can keep the end result and use it to get to the next training course. The project works closely with Crisis, which advertises and pays for the courses, although any project or hostel could run the bike building- course if they organised it. Bikeworks has grown quickly during the year it has been officially running. The company has contracts to run cycle courses for school children, disabled people and people with health problems such as obesity for three London boroughs. Working with homeless people is a new venture and director Dave Miller believes there are a number of reasons why it should work: "Bikes are an informal industry, and there is quick up-skilling and flexible working hours for people with health problems or more chaotic lifestyles," he says. "I previously worked with Shelter and so homelessness is an issue close to my heart. I'd always wanted to do it." All project staff are clearly excited by what they do. Barnaby Tasker runs the employment and training programme. "I love it," he says, referring to both the people and the bikes he works with. Having previously worked in homeless projects across the country, being able to combine his employment history with his passion for bikes was the ideal job. The enthusiasm seems infectious: the next course is already oversubscribed and the staff have had to allow extra training days to cope with the numbers. The biggest problem so far, Mr Tasker explains, is that people want to be at the project all the time. "It was really hectic," he says. "We had to be clear that this is also a workplace and people had jobs to do." It is better now, though, he explained, as they have acquired a second place where the training will take place, keeping the courses and the day-to-day work separate. The success of the project is one the directors want to repeat, and Dave has plans for the future. He wants to replicate the project in other parts of London, or branch out to other parts of the country. He certainly has plenty of endorsement. "Here, everyone is equal, and everyone will help you. It gives you back your self esteem," says Mr Bernard.