The Bristol Bike Project aims to provide free bicycles to underprivileged groups that would not otherwise have the opportunity to own one. All of the bikes are either unwanted or unused and donated by the general public, and the new owners have to attend workshops to overhaul and maintain their bikes.
The aim of the project is to be sustainable with a strong emphasis on people helping themselves, reducing the amount that ends up in landfill and recycling as much as possible.
We caught up with co-founder James Lucas to talk about the project, his favourite cycle routes in the city, and how he envisages the future of the project.
1. When did you set up The Bristol Bike Project?
I set up the project with a good friend of mine in December 2008. I was very much enamoured with the principle of just getting on with it rather than waiting for funding to become available and soon discovered what a HUGE resource unwanted and unused bicycles are in Bristol! It snowballed relatively quickly, with lots of new people getting on board within the first year.
2. Are you from Bristol?
I am - a real life Bristolian! People are always surprised to come across them as it seems to be seen as quite a transitory city by many.
3. Tell us about your business?
Well, it's a not-for-profit social enterprise rather than a business as such! We are a comprehensive community bike project, that repairs and relocates unwanted bicycles in our community. At the core of our organisation is our weekly Earn-a-Bike programme that makes bicycles accessible to those who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford the cost of buying or maintaining one - to date, we've had over a thousand unwanted bikes 'earned' through this programme.
We also run several programmes specifically aimed at young people, as well as offering general repairs and servicing and secondhand bikes for sale, the surplus from which, all gets reinvested and supports the community work that we do.
4. How can people get involved?
One of the great things about the project these days, is that there really are numerous ways of getting involved and lots of different entry points to the project, whether you are an expert mechanic or a complete beginner. If you are interested in volunteering with us and learning more bike mechanics in the process, then take a look at our volunteering page here.
Or perhaps you're more interested in coming on one of our cycle maintenance courses, having the opportunity to use our well-equipped workshop and tools to fix up your own bike or would simply like to become a member or supporter of the project? All of this information can be found on our website.
5. How do you find running a community organisation in Bristol?
Bristol is a wonderful city to be running a community organisation such as the bike project. It has a lot of enthusiastic, motivated folks with a strong DIY spirit and I think that a lot of people living here prioritise making time to do other things than just paid work, so volunteering is really popular in the city.
This also means that there are loads of fantastic, grassroots initiatives and organisations to get involved with and to seek advice, solidarity and support from. The Bristol Bike Project is set up as a worker's co-operative, which means that we have no hierarchy or bosses and that there is shared ownership with lots of people involved in running the project on a day to day basis.
6. Where do you like to eat out in Bristol?
I'm a big fan of Cafe Kino, as I think that they are really dedicated to and represent vegan food well here in the city. I also really like The Bristolian on Picton Street (where I'm often found editing Boneshaker Magazine, which grew out of the bike project) and Katie & Kim's because those two are simply fabulous! Oh, and theFarm Cafe in St Werburghs too, as I live very close by and they do great coffee!
7. Any favourite cycling routes or areas in and around Bristol you can recommend?
I love heading out of the city over the Clifton Suspension Bridge and up towards Ashton Court and Leigh Woods - we're very fortunate to have such beautiful green space on our doorstep. Pedaling out to Clevedon and back on smaller, country roads is also a blast.
8. Where do you see The Bristol Bike Project in 5 years time?
Hopefully even more self-sustaining than it is now and more popular than ever as everyone will have been forced to give up driving in the city by then and have to walk, cycle, skateboard and use much-improved public transport instead (I can't help but dream!). We are always looking at setting up new programmes and would also like to support other satellite bike projects start up in some of the more deprived areas on the outskirts of the city - we're looking at starting something like this as I write.
9. What advice would you give to community organisations and charities struggling with funding and support?
Wherever possible, to try and design into your organisation or charity (from its inception if possible) the ability to be self-sustaining, if not completely, than at least partially.
I really believe that community groups need to be more resilient these days when funding is perhaps less available or consistent and this is definitely one of the ways of achieving this. It's also very empowering as an organisation to be self-sustaining and autonomous as it's much easier to hold on to your integrity that way.
On another note, there are also lots of organisations in Bristol that help to connect community groups with those people wanting to volunteer and so that can also be helpful - people power can be a magical, transformative thing! The power of social media is also not to be underrated - build your own communities by proactively spreading the word and don't be afraid to ask for help and support.
10. If you were Mayor of Bristol for a day which one thing would you change?
I would totally reassess the way that cars are currently able to move around and dominate our cityscape. Part of this would mean an outright ban on private motor vehicles from large parts of it, whilst at the same time, improving public transport (trams anyone?), increasing pedstrianised areas and inner city green space and implementing proper cycle infrastructure (think Copenhagen).
I'd also kickstart a decent, affordable (even free perhaps?) hire bike scheme, which would include cargo bikes for moving larger things around! And because it's current, I'd also honour the idea of Bristol being a truly Green Capital this year and reject the proposed metrobus scheme (see. www.risingup.org.uk) which, at this very minute, is threatening some of the city's most precious food-growing land.
For more information about The Bristol Bike Project, visit their website.