I am sure most of us will remember the image of the three year old boy, Alan Kurdi, lying dead on the beach in Italy in 2015. At the time I had two boys aged five and one, the latter of whom had me awake a lot of the night where I constantly tried to think of ways I could do something. Being in York with young children it was difficult to think of anything beyond sending cash to charities working with refugees, but I kept looking for more.
Eventually I came across a post for a young Syrian coming to York to study at the University who would like a bike. I immediately jumped at the chance, purchased a second hand bike, lights and a lock and me and my family delivered the bike. As soon as we left I remember turning to my partner and saying “This is what I should do, this will be my thing”.
As someone who only learnt to drive in my late-thirties I knew what a bike could mean for someone, the freedom to travel, get to work, school, appointments, cheaper supermarkets etc. I was also very aware of the mental health benefits of cycling and realised that giving people who had suffered trauma a bike was a really positive step.
So after that first bike delivery I started looking for opportunities to find refugees that I could give bikes to, soon I was in touch with the council and became their point of contact so that whenever a new family from Syria arrived in York I would get everyone in the family a bike. Obviously I quickly realised I couldn’t buy a bike every time so I started asking people to donate their old bikes, or maybe people started offering – I’m not even sure how it all started, but before long Bikes in Need was born.
After a while I reached out to the homeless hostels in the city, most of whom use the bikes as pool bikes for people staying in the hostels. I am also now contacted by various organisations working with people in financial need in the city, including the Citizen Advice Bureau, Hob Moor Children’s Services etc.
At some point fairly early along the journey I also reached out to Refugee Action York. It is through them that I recently heard about 90 asylum seekers housed in a hotel on the outskirts of York where they will remain until accommodation is found for them elsewhere. How long they will be in this temporary accommodation is unclear but I am now in the process of putting together a pool of bikes for them to use whilst in the city. I am looking for any unwanted male / unisex adult bikes that need a new home. And, as always, am also looking for help with fixing donated bikes. So if anyone has any bike maintenance skills and a few hours to spare, please do get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
To end, this project has been one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done. I have been able to give kids their first bike and seen their joy in learning to cycle. I have been able to give bikes to the unaccompanied minors who arrive here with horrific stories of trauma and heartbreak. I have been contacted by previous occupants of homeless hostels and told how having a bike was life changing for them. Over the last four years I have received and re-homed over 150 bikes to people in need in the City of York.
If you have bikes to donate or time to volunteer please get in touch at bikesinneed.co.uk