Lush speak to acting director Hatty Richards of The Bristol Bike Project. As well as dealing with the day to day running of the volunteer workshop she also facilitates a weekly ladies only Freedom of Movement Programme. The session invites women from asylum seeker and refugee networks, and women living in challenging environments to find empowerment through bike mechanics and cycle skills.
What attracted you to The Bristol Bike Project?
It’s an absolutely fantastic project! The reuse of bikes, teaching and sharing of skills is what jumped out at me. The Bristol Bike Project is a member led community interest company which aims to break down barriers and help marginalised people.
Can you tell us about the Freedom of Movement Programme?
It was set up to tackle a gap in The Bike Project. There are lots of girls that love cycling and we didn’t seem to be giving away many bikes to them. I wanted to work with more women so they could benefit from the service that Bike Project provided.
We want them to experience the freedom that a bike can give and tackle their preconceptions about who cycling is for.
The Freedom of Movement Programme invites women from a variety of backgrounds to spend time in the workshop. How does the programme help the women who attend during their day to day life?
Quite a lot of the women are asylum seekers and refugees. This group of women struggle financially. Access to different parts of the city has to be by foot as they can’t pay for transport; asylum seekers can receive as little as £5 a day to live on and that doesn’t really foot the bill. Having transport that can get them to where they need to be is essential.
We work with a range of women from within the community of Bristol who need a bike and would not usually have access to one. Practically speaking it’s amazing for them to have an affordable, sustainable form of transport. Across the board, I think independent transport contributes to a feeling of freedom, empowerment and gives the women who take part freedom to move around Bristol.
What core skills do they learn?
We hope that they gain a new sense of freedom and feel empowered. We’ve heard some say, ‘this is a man’s job.’ Initially they seem a lot more ready to believe they can’t do and ready to believe that a man should do it instead, but after a three hour session they develop a new confidence using tools, and a lot of them come out of it having had fun and learnt some skills. Hopefully it has an impact on how they do other tasks that may have traditionally been done by blokes.
So as well as bike mechanics, do you help with cycle training?
We work more with women from the asylum seeker groups on cycle skills – although it’s not exclusive – but within some cultures women aren’t encouraged to undertake practical or mechanical tasks, and there can be a stigma against female cyclists. Sometimes the women we work with haven’t learnt for those reasons as it’s thought of as a man’s pursuit.
Two of my colleagues are running these from a community centre nearby; it can be pretty daunting for people at first, but seeing people gain confidence on two wheels is fantastic.
What’s the best part of your job?
It’s got to be having your beginner workshop with a woman who doesn’t think she is able to do it or enjoy it and then half an hour in she is really going for it. They grow in confidence and seem happy with themselves and of course happy with their new bike!
Why is it important for women and girls around the UK to get on their bikes?
Because it’s fun, free and it’s good for you. It gives you freedom. Your bike is always by your side, it’s an everyday essential. Hopefully we can contribute to breaking down barriers associated with cycling
If you live in Bristol you can donate your bike Monday - Saturday between 9am and 6pm, or if you want to become bike savvy and do a course or volunteer with us, visit TheBristolBikeProject.org.
The Bristol Bike Project is one of many groups that receive funding from Charity Pot. Find out more about the groups we fund here.