Community Cycleworks is an experienced youth-focussed bike project. They have been delivering courses in Southwark schools - teaching children how to build and fix bikes - for the past three years. So far they have put over 300 young people through this course with an average age of 13. They have strong links with local youth providers and the Sustainable transport team of LB Southwark.
Safer Cycles Bike-Fix Programme aims to teach children how to maintain their own bikes through workshop-based training. The workshop delivers in-depth guidance to allow children to gain knowledge and skills, as well as ensuring their bikes are safe during their travels to school and other locations.
The principle of the project is for local children to attend a workshop where they can learn how to build a bike from scratch, or alternatively how to fix their own bike. Bikes can be fixed in one session and the programme also runs short to long-distance bike rides (some as far as Canterbury). They make use of the BMX track and a traffic free route in Beckenham Place Park.
The programme has a fantastic mock “time off in lieu” system where the children earn “credit” by attending the workshops to build up their own bike. Once they complete the time owed, they can take their bike home with them to enjoy, free of charge. The programme also encourages the children to take up cycle training where they will receive discounted locks and lights upon achieving their Level 2 award.
The programme currently has 13 kids registered, who have repeatedly dropped into the sessions to fix their bikes. All newcomers fill in a questionnaire about their cycle confidence, whether they previously have or currently own a bike, and whether they have storage for it at home. The programme relies on word of mouth and the use of school newsletters. All staff are trained and experienced mechanics and cycling instructors.
So far the programme has been extremely rewarding. Stewart, the project lead for the programme, says one of the most rewarding moments of the job is watching the kids form friendships with one another and helping one another. Of particular significance is when one frequent member, who developed an unapproachable reputation for themselves within the community, completely changed throughout the sessions; building relationships and enjoying fixing bikes and becoming a regular volunteer.
When asked what advice he would give to similar projects, Stewart said that it was important not to be nervous if the first few sessions are quiet. You have to give it time for the word to spread, especially through young people as they do not have access to social media and will hear about the project from their friends. It is also important to be patient with young people, to let them try for themselves and make their own mistakes – within reason. It can be tempting to step in and demonstrate, but the best way to learn is by doing it yourself.
Jane, Volunteer Mechanic and Cycle Instructor said: “Since I’ve been working here I can see how valuable these kinds of projects are. These kids either have no bikes or are using unsafe bikes. Our ride outs are residential and you can literally see the kids transforming, both in their riding and their relationships.”
Matt, Community Cycleworks CIC said: “In terms of this particular funding, CGL is a lifeline for projects like this. Kids often come in with the wrong parts fitted on their bikes, so they come here and they can rummage through what we have to get the correct ones. The ride outs teach these kids how to ride on the road which is so important, as our ultimate goal is to make bikes used more as a mode of transport.”