Image credit: Westminster City Council

Community bike shop Westminster Wheels training unemployed residents to become bike mechanics

A community bike shop that was set up in partnership by Westminster City Council, Groundwork London and Cycle Confident has been providing opportunities for out-of-work residents to train as bike mechanics and be paid the London Living Wage while they are learning.

Throughout the six-month programme, the trainees work alongside experienced bike mechanics refurbishing old bikes, of which 80% are sold at affordable prices to generate income for the shop and 20% are donated to the local community.

Since the shop opened in March 2021, 30 Westminster residents have completed their six-month training and most have gone on to secure further employment, many within the bike industry.

Chris Whiteley, who successfully completed his paid work placement with Westminster Wheels and who is now a full-time bike mechanic said: “I first moved to London last year. I was homeless before I came here so I moved in with my sister.

“I found a poster for Westminster Wheels when I was going for a walk one day and thought, I love bikes and would love to learn how to fix them. Westminster Wheels has absolutely changed my life. I went from having no idea or what to do with my life to finding a career that I could happily spend the rest of my life doing.”

Westminster Wheels has so far donated over 80 bikes which have been targeted at areas in Westminster with the highest rates of deprivation and health inequality. In the past year, bikes have been provided to community organisations including Marylebone Bangladesh Society, Paddington Development Trust, Women’s Groups and via the council’s Children’s Services.

To encourage safe cycling, all the beneficiaries are made aware of bike training sessions and support and advice offered from the shop at Church Street.

This year, Westminster Wheels will be expanding its reach by donating bike servicing vouchers to low-income families in Westminster with the aim of providing 450 vouchers over the next six months.

Linking in with Westminster City Council’s wider climate action plan including its ambition to become a carbon-neutral council by 2030 and city by 2040, the project also has a strong sustainability focus.

In its first year, nine tonnes of disused bikes that would otherwise have gone to waste have been refurbished. Local people are being encouraged and enabled to choose active transport over cars.

The project’s reach has been made possible by sponsorship from businesses in Westminster including Capita, Ecoworld, Grosvenor, The Howard de Walden Estate, RMG, Westminster Community Homes, Ecoworld, HA Marks, Wates and Vital Energy.

Read more: Not (just) for kids: Exploring the current state of BMX

Councillor Geoff Barraclough, cabinet member for planning and economic development at Westminster City Council, said: “Westminster Wheels has helped people who face high barriers to employment such as homelessness learn new and useful skills. Over 60% of the trainees are now in full-time employment.

“If you’re a cycling enthusiast or just  starting out on two wheels, please check out the Westminster Wheels shop on Church Street to meet the trainees and get expert advice on affordable bikes and servicing.”

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