A bike hire scheme in Cornwall that benefited from more than £30,000 in funding through the National Lottery failed to get off the ground – and locals are wondering where the money went, with one person supposed to have been trained claiming it had been “frittered away on a now non-existent project.”
An in-depth investigation by Cornwall Live reveals that Par Bay Bike Hire received £33,200 for what was described as a “youth entrepreneurship training and bike hire project” in the Par area.
The money was awarded under a Big Lottery grant from Par Bay Big Local (PBBL), whose financial administration is handled by the Eden Project, to the scheme’s founder, Josh Taylor.
But according to Cornwall Live, no-one received training and bikes donated to the project by locals were left to rust in a barn.
In a report dated 31 May 2015, PBBL said that the scheme was intended to help under-25s “develop the skills and confidence to run their own ventures or to be part of a new bike hire business in the area.”
It claimed that 10 people had received training and some had secured new jobs or started their own businesses.
But one person who was supposed to have received training under the scheme said: “It is my opinion that £33,000 was a definite waste of money and, as anyone can see, the Par Bay Bike Hire project was not successful.
“This money could have been used elsewhere and, instead, it has been frittered away on a now non-existent project.”
The would-be trainee, speaking anonymously, said: “I only attended a maximum of two meetings, the first of which was a photo shoot and then coming up with ideas to generate sponsorship, which, in my opinion, didn’t make sense as PBBL has already provided £33,000 towards this project."
They added that Mr Taylor had set up a secret Facebook group to communicate with people involved in the scheme.
“Josh messaged the group to tell everyone that he and Trudy [Thompson, his business partner] would be taking over the project but we would still receive updates on how it was coming along. I do not recall receiving any updates and the secret group was deleted shortly after this.
“As it was a secret group, there are no traces of its existence on Facebook, not within the messages or the group function. In my opinion, this was done to sweep it under the carpet so people would forget about it.”
Another supposed trainee said: “I was approached by Josh and shown wonderful plans and ideas of how the scheme was going to benefit not only the young people who would work within it but the whole community.
“I only ever had two encounters with the bike scheme since that initial conversation – a photo shoot to promote the bike hire company and being asked to get stickers produced to put on the bikes. The promise of training or a future business project within it was never spoken of again.”
“Over the months, local people kindly donated their old bikes. Josh soon realised that he couldn’t use them due to health and safety and insurance reasons,” she continued.
“They were put into one of the barns to be used as training for the future bike mechanics. I never saw a single one of those bikes leave the barn.
“Slowly rusting and deteriorating, I always thought it was such a shame as they really were bikes in good order and could have been given back to the community.”
She added: “My personal experience of the matter led me to think that the £33k grant was not spent well. In fact, I cannot see where it went. How anyone from PBBL can justify the bike hire scheme was a legitimate scheme and benefited the community is beyond me.”
A separate venture that Mr Taylor operated with Ms Thompson, the Tywardreath Village Shop, closed without warning on Monday, according to Cornwall Live. The pair raised £470,000 from locals to save the shop, but people who loaned the money are now reportedly worried they will not see it again.
Former shop manager Tom Larkin recalled a barn there “filling up” with donated bikes, but said “nothing ever happened” with them.
By the end of summer 2016, the bike hire had wound down to virtually nothing at all … and the following year it was effectively non-existent,” he added.
“As far as I am concerned nothing ever came of the £33k grant. All that remains are a fleet of rusty bikes. I fail to see how anyone accountable for this money can justify it as money well spent.”
In a statement, the Local Trust which oversees PBBL confirmed that in April 2015 it “agreed an award to Josh Taylor for £33,200 to develop a youth entrepreneur project which used a bike hire scheme as a vehicle to deliver training to young people.
"The Partnership is satisfied that the funding awarded was spent directly on the delivery of both aspects of the project. Investment in local young people was a particular feature of this project and the Partnership is satisfied that the entrepreneurial training has had a positive impact on many of those who participated,” it added.
Cornwall Live said it had requested evidence that the project was delivered but had not received a reply.
While Mr Taylor did not reply to a request for comment, Cornwall Live received an email from Ms Thompson, who said: "If you want answers about our shop, funding or even the bike hire scheme all you need to do is read back what we have already been very publicly and openly saying in updates for the last year here."
The website she linked stated: "The bike scheme is fully operational, it has been run by Josh as his own project with help from local young people for over two years,” and claimed that more than 50 young people had benefited from training during that time.”
Cornwall Live added that a link on that webpage to parbaybikehire.com resulted in a message saying “this website is under construction.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.