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Cambridge college sends abandoned student bikes to Africa

Bikes are sold for charity or repaired and shipped to Africa

A Cambridge University college is donating all bikes left behind by students to a charity that sends them to Africa.

St John’s College, which finds dozens of bike abandoned by graduating students, or damaged beyond use.

They will now be donated to OWL Bikes – part of the disability charity Papworth Trust, who will repair and renovate them before selling them on at a discount to the public, or sending them to Africa to ease the burden on people who have to travel long distances for food, water and work.

Before claiming the bikes, the college porters will attempt to trace the bike’s owner, then impound it for a month to enable students to be reunited first.

Head porter at St John's College, Steve Poppitt, told Cambridge News: "The abandoned bikes that we find are often damaged and unusable or have been left behind by students who have since graduated.

"Like a lot of people in Cambridge, many staff and members of the College use a bicycle to get around town and, with limited cycle parking facilities available, it is important that any abandoned bikes are identified and removed. "

He added: "The college currently has around 50 bicycles to donate and we are really happy to be able to send bikes, that would have been headed for the dump, to a good cause where they can make a real difference to people's lives."

A post on the Recycle Bikes to Africa website reads: "The bikes that we send are used to support a variety of people all of whom are vulnerable in different ways; targeted beneficiaries include disabled people, street children, trafficked children, rural families and people whose lives can be improved through skills development and access to affordable transport.”

Earlier this month we reported how Chris Boardman has lent his support to the charity.

“It’s just a great concept — everybody wins,” he told The Times.

Boardman was speaking at a Halfords store in Brixton – one of 80 branches which will be accepting bikes on behalf of the charity. A full list of drop-off locations can be found on the Re~Cycle website.

The organisation receives donations of unwanted bikes from individuals and businesses and those that are sound are sent to various partner organisations in Africa. Damaged bikes or bikes in poor condition are stripped down and the spare parts are also sent to Africa.

Boardman said that refurbishing bikes for people who may have no other form of transport was ‘a no-brainer’.

“In the UK having a bike is fashionable. Cycling is a trendy thing to do. In Europe bikes are very functional, people ride them in normal clothes — you don’t see ‘cyclists’.

"But worldwide, it is the poor people’s transport; it’s how you get around. For some people it’s a choice but for others it’s a genuine means to get to work, to a school, hospital or clean water — their only means.”

Last year the charity sent 12,317 bicycles to six countries in Africa and since it began in 1997, it has shipped almost 75,000.

 “Bikes have a huge life span and can do an awful lot for people,” said Boardman.


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