The Bike Project is a charity built on a touching story. When founder and CEO Jem Stein was at university, he was a volunteer mentor paired with Adam, a young Darfuri refugee. Adam struggled to make the meetings, often having to choose between catching the bus or eating a decent meal.
So Jem refurbished his brother’s old bike and gave it to Adam as a way of accessing his education, healthcare and psychological support – for free. For Jem, a spark was lit and he left university with a mission to provide more refugees with bikes.
In 2013, he founded The Bike Project Charity, refurbishing unwanted bikes and donating them to refugees and asylum seekers of all ages in the UK. Nine years later and the charity is on track to donate its 10,000th bike this summer.
The charity runs community engagement programmes too, including Pedal Power: a free cycling programme for refugee women, taught by qualified refugee women. There’s also Bike Buddies, a programme that pairs bike recipients with nearby volunteer cyclists to help improve their confidence on the roads, and Cyber Cyclists, weekly Zoom sessions offering a sense of community and activities including cycle safety lessons. Young refugees can also take advantage of a Social Action programme which helps prepare them for the job market.
Headquartered in Brixton, the charity has until now operated services out of its workshop in Deptford, but earlier this month on June 11, it opened the doors to a new bike shop in Camberwell. Here, the public can buy refurbished bikes, clothing and cycling accessories, and make the most of bike servicing and repairs, with proceeds raised pumped back into the charity.
Holly O’Mahony speaks to Charlotte Hu, Digital Marketing Manager at The Bike Project, to find out more…
Holly O’Mahony: The Bike Project has just opened a new bike shop in Camberwell where the public can donate, shop for or fix their bikes, with all proceeds going towards the charity. How does it work?
Charlotte Hu: When someone donates an old bike, if its resale value is deemed high enough after our team refurbishes it, we will sell it in our bike shop (instead of donating it) as the proceeds will be able to help multiple refugees. In addition to our online services, customers can now browse our bikes and accessories in store without an appointment, or book a bike servicing session for maintenance and repairs.
HOM: What made you choose Camberwell to open your first bike shop?
CH: Southwark is quite a cycle-friendly borough with good transport links, and Camberwell is conveniently located between our workshop in Deptford and our headquarters in Brixton.
HOM: What support are you looking for from the public to continue doing the work you do?
CH: We accept adult and kids’ bikes, even if they need a bit of TLC. Unfortunately we don’t take bike parts or accessories. People can find their nearest drop-off point on our website.
HOM: To date, The Bike Project has been able to give nearly 10,000 bikes to refugees. Is there a big waiting list?
CH: Our current waiting list is 170 refugees and asylum seekers, who live in London or Birmingham. We always need more bikes to refurbish! However, if people don’t have a bike to donate but would still like to support the charity, they could host a pop-up to collect bikes from their local community, volunteer with us, fundraise, become a Bike Buddy through our refugee befriending programme, or become a regular giver.
HOM: How do refugees and those in need of The Bike Project’s services find you?
CH: Refugees and asylum seekers find us through referral partners. We work with about 20 charity partners including Care4Calais, Refugee Action and British Red Cross, who refer people to us each week.HOM: How is the work you’re doing currently being funded?
CH: We’re very lucky to have passionate fundraisers. Last year, 539 people took on our Refugee Routes cycling challenge (check the website for details) and raised £115k by collectively cycling 139k miles. We also have some wonderful corporate partners such as Bolt and SunGod, and support from organisations including Comic Relief.
HOM: With the shop now open, what’s next for The Bike Project Charity?
CH: We have big plans to expand into more cities in order to help refugees and asylum seekers all across the country. The more people that know about our charity, the more bikes we’ll be able to collect to help them.
The Bike Project Shop, 170 Camberwell Road, London SE5 0EE. Visit the website for information on donating a bike, fundraising for the charity and becoming a bike buddy.