“Bike Back” is our bicycle recycling project that teaches prisoners to refurbish broken and unwanted bikes as part of their cycle mechanics training. Just like the rest of the country, UK prisons also went into full lockdown in response to the COVID 19 pandemic. The aim was to reduce transmission of the disease from the outside and between prisoners. However, this meant all group activities had to cease – including our work training prisoners as bike mechanics.
Here’s our Bristol Prison Workshop Manager John’s update on what’s been happening since lockdown was announced:
"Like all teachers in the UK, myself and Emma had to adapt. We normally work directly with the prisoners teaching them City & Guilds bicycle mechanics. Instead, we have been producing remote learning packs which have been distributed to the prisoners to work on inside their cells.
In our secure prison workshop, we would normally work with eight men at a time. Much to our delight, we have managed to engage 24 learners and issue 128 learning packs so far. And we have many more in the pipeline! These packs cover many aspects of bicycle mechanics, ranging from basic puncture repair to wheel building and information on careers within the cycle industry. We were proud to be held up as an example of best practice for prisoner learning materials. We hope that our activities are providing some uplift and purpose to prisoners in a "double lockdown" situation.
Of course, we are eager to get back into the workshop and give the prisoners an opportunity to test out their new knowledge on actual bikes! We are hoping that this will happen at the beginning of July. In the meantime, our Bike Back staff have been refurbishing donated bikes, with support from some of our amazing volunteers who have been fixing bikes from home. This great sense of teamwork and everyone pulling together gives me great pleasure and we all appreciate these kind acts.
Outside the prison
"We are fortunate here at Bike Back as we have the fantastic ‘Hub’, our public-facing bicycle workshop, where we hold our training, servicing, refurbishment and sales centre all under one roof. It’s actually been a very busy time here, as we have all been responding to the phenomenal boom in bike demand and use, which is music to our ears!
Lockdown has given us the impetus to develop a new "bike repairs and servicing" area within the Hub. We have now launched bike servicing for the public and we’ve been focussing on giving free bike services to key workers, thanks to funding from Cycling UK and the Police and Crime Commissioner.
Demand for bike repairs has been high: We had over 100 services booked within weeks! To help us meet the demand, we were able to expand the Bike Back team. So welcome - and take your seat on the life cycle tandem – James!
While we could not continue public bike sales from the Hub, we have moved bike sales online to our eBay shop. The team worked quickly to develop a safe and socially distanced way for customers to pick up the bikes. This has been booming and many sell as soon as we put them up. Thanks to funding from Wheels to Work we were able to offer £100 discounts to key workers, plus a free D lock and lights. These offers for keyworkers have given real pleasure to all the staff involved. The team has worked really hard and felt we are contributing something to the pandemic efforts - as well as giving a great service.
Looking to the future
"Developing our services within the Hub now means we have a perfect environment to offer prisoners further professional industry training - either after release or as part of their ‘Release on Temporary Licence’ (RoTL). Hopefully, it will not be long until we can do this.
Of course, we must also thank you – our wonderful supporters - for your generous bike donations. Every bike, from the rusty broken type to the super carbon road bike, it all helps. People’s kind donations have enabled us to continue in our plans to resume our work with the prisoners and begin the return to the “new normal”. If you have a bike to donate, please consider dropping it into us – it will help prisoners to gain a qualification and enable local people to get cycling.
All of this fantastic activity also gives us great hope for the future during these uncertain times: We have more people on bikes than ever before! Let’s hope this will continue, it can’t be a bad thing!
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