Alex Kempton, Media and Communications Lead for Hastings Community of Sanctuary
Bike Lab Hastings has been going for six plus years, and is, in the words of volunteer Tim Godwin, a group of people who like bikes and like working on bikes!
The Mission Statement for Bike Lab Hastings is very straightforward: to promote cycling in Hastings and St Leonards, and to offer advice, spare parts, and mechanical expertise to low-income and vulnerable cyclists who otherwise would not be able to easily access these things. Running twice a week, on a Wednesday and Sunday, BLH has on average 15-25 users per week, and over the course of 2017 helped over 800 people maintain, fix and build bikes.
Tim says it is by accident that they ended up working with lots of vulnerable user groups including the local refugee and asylum seeking community, work that was going on prior to the involvement with the Syrian Resettlement Project. It was due to an approach from Simon Finlay, the East Sussex County Council Manager for the SRP, that the special Monday evening sessions were arranged to cater for the newly arrived Syrian families. Tim explains that these specific sessions were about ensuring the families could access the project; with an average of 25 or so people at the open sessions, they wanted to ensure that the families weren’t too intimidated to attend, and there was time to negotiate the language barrier. This, says Tim, has been the biggest barrier, one which has been negotiated with lots of miming and hand signals!
The language barrier and volume of people has not been off putting for one young man, Aziz, who now regularly attends the Wednesday sessions as a volunteer, fixing and breaking down bikes and building friendships. For Tim, this is what the project is all about. When asked what he gets from working with the refugee families, he simply says the same thing you get from being with anyone – that getting people on bikes is simply a good thing, and getting kids bikes and watching them ride it for the first time is awesome.
Digging a little deeper, Tim admits that never having specifically with a work of refugees before, it’s remarkable hearing some of the stories. He says it’s mind blowing what people have gone through and how long it has taken them to get to where they are, it’s humbling, which sounds cliche, but is true. But for him, and all of the volunteers, the workshop is the ultimate leveller; they see people who have just moved down to Hastings and need help putting pedals on their £3000 e-bike, and they also help local homeless people with zero income build a bike. The thing about Bike Lab is that it isn’t about the refugees per se, it’s an existing community project, and this, Tim thinks, is why it has been so popular.
None of the mechanics at Bike Lab Hastings have the capacity to be part of the Buddy Project, and as such having Will as a link between the two has been essential to the success of this. Read Will’s story here.
Bike Lab Hastings has just been nominated for a Cycling UK Community Project of the year Award, and they say they will continue to offer these sessions as long as the funding is available.