The bicycle business isn't just about turning a profit...

Bikeworks: Cycle back into work

…the trade also gets involved in philanthropic endeavours, including getting disadvantaged people into work. Barnaby Tasker, training and employment coordinator at Bikeworks, explains all to Jonathon Harker…

How did the programme begin?
Bikeworks is an award-winning social enterprise that uses cycling and bikes as a tool to achieve social, environmental and economic change at a local community level. We operate as a business but reinvest all our profits into our community cycling programmes.

Since opening our first ‘community cycling hub’ in London in 2008, Bikeworks has developed a number of key programmes. One of which we are most proud is ‘cycle into work’, a training programme to support disadvantaged people into work in the cycle industry.

We have found that cycling is good at engaging people who have been homeless and enabling them to develop their skills to a level where they are job-ready. This offers individuals the chance to turn their lives around. The significant growth in cycling across London has also left the industry short of skilled labour so as well as helping individuals we are supporting the industry with its labour needs.

Who is eligible to take part?
Bikeworks community cycling hubs are open to everyone. We like to think of it as a one-stop-shop for all your cycling needs with a particular emphasis on engaging people who wouldn’t normally try cycling.

Whether you want to learn how to cycle, fix your bike, join a group ride, get a repair, hire a bike, volunteer with one of our programmes, buy a recycled or new bike it’s all available at Bikeworks.

In addition to this we run a number of key activities including disability cycling, cycling for health, cycle into work, bike re-use/recycling and youth projects.

The ‘cycle into work’ programme targets individuals who have experienced homelessness in particular, though we are now also beginning to work with other groups such as young people who are out of training/employment and potentially also with ex-offenders shortly.

What does the training involve?
The cycle into work programme is more than just training. It is pioneering in its approach to getting homeless and long-term unemployed people onto bikes and into work. We have taken something very simple (the bike) and used it to help people with very complicated and chaotic lives. The programme has been put together to ensure the right mix of flexibility and structure so that as many people as possible can complete the training while they tackle other issues affecting their lives.

Participants on Cycle into Work first complete a ‘Build a Bike’ course at a hostel or day centre. This is a short course used to engage people with bikes, get them cycling, and teach them the skills necessary to maintain their own bike. Participants ‘earn a bike’, gaining a cheap method of transport to get to appointments and interviews.

Graduates who have demonstrated an aptitude for mechanics and a passion for bicycles can then make an application to join the full three month Cycle into Work programme. Trainees study bicycle mechanics to a professional level (City and Guilds level 2) whilst also gaining vital industry work experience at Bikeworks and also have the opportunity to train as Bikeability cycle instructors.

After graduating if they’re not quite ready for full employment some trainees continue to volunteer at Bikeworks, either in our recycling centre, our busy workshop.

What firms support the initiative?
We are really grateful to Madison for supporting us to equip our training centre with state-of-the art park tools and brands such as DT Swiss and Shimano. We are working in partnership with Serco, Transport for London and the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme for whom many or our graduates now work. We also work with Evans and a wide number of other retailers in the London area.

We are looking to further expand the programme to work with more people and we’re keen to develop more industry partnerships to do this.

How many people has Bikeworks trained?
Over 230 people have completed ‘Build a Bike’ courses at community centres across London, giving them access to new skills and the benefits of cycling. From here, 60 people have progressed onto Cycle into Work, 47 of whom graduated successfully. Of these graduates, 39 are qualified City and Guilds mechanics and 35 are accredited cycle instructors.

And do you know if many end up in the bike trade after that?
Cycle into work has proven very successful at achieving employment outcomes despite its relative infancy.
Of the 47 graduates, 26 are in paid employment (19 full time and seven part time), almost all of whom are working in the cycling industry. We even have one graduate who has set up his own cycling social enterprise, which is fantastic.

What are the ambitions for the project in 2011 and beyond?
Bikeworks is very proud of the cycle into work programme. We are currently putting about 50 people a year through cycle into work but could easily double this in 2011 if we can secure the required resources.

We are exploring other ways to finance the programme and with our new second cycling hub recently opened in west London we have both greater geographical reach and more facilities available.

Bikeworks won an award for London’s best social enterprise 2010 at the London business awards and has plans to open up several new ‘community cycling hubs’ across London in the next few years.

We believe that doing business differently through social enterprise is the way to do business in the Twenty-First Century and we now aim to show that we can do this to a greater scale.

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