"A bike can transform a refugee’s life"

Jon Machen is the founder and director of The Bike Project, a charity that provides bikes to refugees in London and Birmingham.
I interviewed him for the 2nd issue of the Zero Waste London Newsletter that went out to subscribers on 28th October 2019.

For how long has the Bike project been going on and how many bikes have been given to refugees so far? 
The Bike Project was set up in 2013 and since then has donated more than 5,500 to refugees and asylum seekers.

Are the bikes all refurbished ones? 
Yes, all the bikes that we give to refugees and asylum seekers have been kindly donated to us by members of the public. We have a team of expert mechanics who then carefully access each bike, refurbishing those that we believe can be made road-worthy.

How much of a difference does having a bike make to a refugee’s life? 
Being given a bike can have a transformative effect on a refugee’s life. A bike can help reduce the cost of travel around London ensuring that refugees and asylum seekers can access the vital support they need.
The law prohibits asylum seekers from working and provides just £37.75 per week to live on. This can mean many having to choose between food and accessing healthcare, education or voluntary opportunities.
58% of refugees in London describe loneness and isolation as their biggest challenge. People make twice as many trips for social or leisure reasons after collecting a bike from us.  

Do you teach how to ride a bike in London to refugees? London can be a very dangerous city for cyclists, unfortunately…
Everyone who receives a bike from us is given a short cycling training before leaving our donation sessions. We also run a programme called Pedal Power which delivers free cycling lessons to refugee women. These run in three locations across London every week.
On top of that, we have a buddying programme called Bike Buddies, where our beneficiaries can be paired with a trained volunteer who lives close to them. The idea is that the volunteer and their buddy go on a few rides together to build confidence, get to know their local area and make a new friend.

You’re currently out of bikes. How is happened before? Are you struggling to keep up with the demand? 
This year we’ve seen demand for our bikes increase dramatically and have had to close our waiting list twice whilst we try and keep up with demand. In spring we had more than 1000 people on our waiting lists.

How can people help the Bike project?
One of the best ways people can support us is to donate their old and unwanted bikes to us. To find your nearest drop off point, visit https://thebikeproject.co.uk/drop-off-points . 
We also sell a small proportion of the bikes that are given to us to ensure our long-term sustainability so if you’re looking to replace your bike, why not check our website.

How much space do people need to set up a drop-off point? Can it be anywhere in Greater London? 
We have more than 24 permanent drop-off points across Greater London but we’re always looking for more. 
All you need to set up a drop-off point is:
- A secure space for at least 10 bikes (kept indoors or outdoors) to be stored at a time
- A designated person on site who can coordinate bike donations and our van collections 
- It’s an added bonus, but by no means essential, if you have means to transport bikes to or from your drop-off points.

You’ve launched in London but you also have a presence in Birmingham. How have you been doing in Birmingham so far?
We opened our doors at The Old Print Works in Birmingham just three months ago in June and have already donated more than 100 bikes.

What are the plans for next year? 
Next year one of our main focuses will be to expand our retail premises to another location in South London. This will help us to ensure that we remain financially sustainable as a social enterprise so that we can continue to expand our bike donations. We’ll also start to offer bike servicing so keep a look out for our new shop!