At the end of March 2015, we started our fourth Build a Bike course here at our busy Day Centre at The Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields.
We are a charity based in Charing Cross with over 60 years of experience in providing advice and services that help homeless people in central London avoid, move away from and stay off the street. In 2015, we were awarded a grant by Cycling Grants London to run a ‘Build a Bike’ course for clients who are currently accessing our day services. The course, delivered as part of our wider groups and activities programme, is designed to engage, support, up-skill and inspire our homeless clients to make lasting life-changes.
In conjunction with a social enterprise called ‘Bikeworks’, we have now supported 13 clients to complete the ‘Build a Bike’ course. The course is an introduction to building and maintaining bikes and can lead on to the City and Guilds qualification. Each client gets a new flatpacked bike to work on, and over the three days they work together to build it from scratch, break it down and build it again. Each time they focus on different areas of the bike in order to get a basic understanding of how to build and maintain it. One of the great things about the course is that participants get to keep their bikes, giving them a long term affordable mode of transport in our ever expensive city, helping them to travel to appointments and interviews and keep fit.
For our recent course we had seven participants, all of who are vulnerably housed or have been homeless in the past but are looking to their futures and moving on with their lives. The course runs for three days, and over three weeks. All the trainees were over the moon to be able to keep their bike. Lesley, our only-female trainee this time, was elated as she had always struggled finding a bike to fit her as she is smaller than average in height, but needed a cheap and affordable way of travelling to appointments.
Following the success of the introductory ‘Build a Bike’ course we were able to secure funding for the level one City and Guilds qualification. This serves as a follow on course and can lead to people finding work in high street shops such as Halfords and Evans or with the Santander Bike scheme in London. Three of the trainees from this course are looking to go onto the City and Guilds qualification. Fredrick, who has always been a keen cyclist, said that he has not been able to maintain his bike properly in the past. He learnt some cycle maintenance as a child, but could not work on the more modern bikes. He said that moving onto the qualification is a great stepping stone for him as he has never really obtained qualifications in the past. Another trainee called Patrick has been sober for three years. He describes himself as “still learning to live again” and will use his new wheels to get to interviews and to essential AA meetings. He said that doing the course made him feel excited about learning new things and has renewed his confidence enough to continue onto the City and Guilds qualification. Stephen is now living in a hostel, after being long term homeless and living with addiction. He enjoyed the course so much that he wished it would continue, so when he heard that he could continue onto the City and Guilds he was delighted. Stephen could not afford a decent bike, so getting the bike was hugely liberating and a chance to also get fit.
The course ends with a cycle safety training from Cycle Confident which is sponsored by Westminster City Council. The trainees go off together for a cycle across London, learning ways in which they can keep themselves safe with their new form of travel. One trainee summed the training up in two words: “Absolutely brilliant”, and we think its brilliant too!