Bristol Bike Project gives mobility and independence to refugees

Two bike mad school friends have set up an inspirational project giving free bikes to refugees and equipping them with the skills to fix and maintain them.

The Bristol Bike Project provides refugees with a cheap and sustainable way of getting around and getting established in their new communities and those who have benefited from the scheme are keen to sing its praises.

Yad, originally from Ethiopia, lives on the outskirts of Bristol and used to have an hour-long walk to college, where he is learning English. Now he can get around far more quickly and easily. He says: "I can now also visit friends that live in different parts of the city and stay in touch with people that I would not otherwise see if I didn't have a bike".

Meanwhile Yafiet, from Eritrea, says: "Life is much easier now I have a bike. I can get into and around the city centre and it is a great form of exercise and helps me to stay fit. It stops me from ever getting bored and gives me a very positive state of mind".

Project founders James Lucas and Colin Fan are old school friends who were inspired to set up a bike project while cycling 1200km through Norway last year.

The idea was moulded into a plan when James, who had worked in South America with displaced people, started helping out at the Refugee Welcome Centre, run by Bristol Refugee Rights. James heard of a previous bike project that had failed to get off the ground and drafted in Colin, a qualified cycling instructor, to help set up The Bristol Bike Project.

"It's a great way of helping people help themselves," says James. "We've just secured a workshop space in the middle of Bristol so everyone that wants to can come and work with us on their own bike. Before that we were doing up bikes and going to the refugee centre and handing them out, which was OK, but the process wasn't really there where people were putting the time and committment into owning a bike.

"Now we make sure we have a selection of suitable bikes and get them to a level where they'll all be ready to be taken away in three to four hours, once the brakes and gears are set up. The refugees then work with us and learn about bike mechanics. They then get to take the bike away with a lock and set of lights. We're trying to make it sustainable so people have an awareness of how to fix their own bike on their own."

James and Colin have so far managed to run the project without any outside funding. They advertised for parts using posters and initially worked from an old stable building.

Now the pair have the new workshop in Hamilton House, Stokes Croft, Bristol, they are looking for funding to take the project to the next level.

Caroline Beatty, co-ordinator of the Bristol Refugee Welcome Centre, is in complete support of what they're doing. She says: "It's absolutely brilliant. A model in every way. It gets people out in their community and gives them the chance to exercise, learn cycle repair and maintenance skills and they've got this fantastic website, which involves people in it all. I think they're stars and we're very, very happy about it." 

The Bristol Bike Project's next task will be to help decorate bicycles for this summer's St Paul's Carnival.

For more information about the project, or to get in touch with James and Colin about donations, please visit http://thebristolbikeproject.blogspot.com or email: thebristolbikeproject [at] gmail.com