Recycling Bikes in Newcastle: a local and international mission.

Clearing out your garage or garden shed is a task no one really wants to take on but, like your tax return, it’s an annual chore that has got to be done. And then what do you do with all the old broken stuff that’s covered in dust? If it’s an old, unused, broken bike there are more options than chucking it in the scrap heap. In Newcastle sorting things into your red, green, and blue bins isn’t the only kind of recycling that benefits the environment. Recycling an old bike could give someone else far more benefits than just being able to get from A to B. 

Bikes Up To The Ceilings

The local mission: Recyke y’Bike

Recyke y’Bike are a well established organisation in Newcastle’s East End. They have repaired and rejuvenated over 26,000 bikes, breathing new life into old things. They take old bike donations from the public and abandoned bike s. The team work on the fixer uppers in the warehouse in Byker and all their hard work goes back into the community, in the form of good affordable bikes or a free transport option for those who need it. The organisation has shops in Byker, Durham, the City Centre and they sell on eBay. 

There is a lot more to Recyke y’Bike than just the servicing and selling of bikes. Recyke y’Bike has been able to reach out to people from walks (or bike rides) of life and the benefits it provides have reached all aspects of community.

Peter Working On One Of Their Donations

One of their community collaborations is with Deerbolt Prison. The programme gives prisoners the chance to gain a practical education and develop their bike fixing skills. Sara, Recyke y’Bike’s manager spoke about the programme “they’ve got a young offenders programme and they work on bikes there. The prison is setting up their own bike shop, they’re just in the process of it so they’re hoping to sell them to Barnard Castle residents. When I went to visit I met a young man who was able to give his daughter a Christmas present of a bike even from being form within prison”. 

Their efforts don’t end there, Recyke y’Bike provide another important community service. They give away bikes to those in need for free. When they started they gave bikes to asylum seekers in need of cheap transport. Since then they have been able to expand and now people who need bikes for a variety of reasons can travel for free because of Recyke y’Bike. 

Cycling Jerseys Hanging In The Warehouse

The organisation has benefited countless people in the community because of this important service. Sara explains, “sometimes its young people who have been in care, or people who have been referred by job centres” she emphasised the importance of exercise and mental health, “also the kind of fitness aspect people are more aware that its good for your mental and physical  health, some people are referred just because they need to be more active”. According to research, in a study of over 1 million people comparing those who did and didn’t exercise, it was found that people who exercised had ‘43·2% fewer days of poor mental health’ and listed cycling as one of the best forms of exercise that made a difference. Mind also state that exercise helps improve sleep, release hormones that make you feel happy and helps to manage stress and anxiety. 

James and Johnny the Dynamic Duo 

Fixing bikes isn’t just good for the body, it’s also good for the soul. Recyke y’Bike provides people with a unique perspective on life with special and quite often rare opportunities for real personal  growth. 

James And Johnny Working On A Bike Together

James is one of the 50 regular volunteers in Byker. He came to Recyke y’Bike with the aim of regaining his bike fixing skills after suffering a brain injury. He started out separating bikes into aluminium and steel. After three weeks he was taking bikes apart for their pieces and is continuing his goal of being able to fix bikes independently. Johnny also started at Recyke y’Bike after suffering a brain injury. After being what he called the “tester” Johnny is now a full-time staff member. He offered to work in a team with James at his pace and encourages him to keep learning and pursue his passion. James and Johnny are just two examples of how this community project has impacted lives for the better, James said, “you gain a bit of self-respect doing something good for someone else”. 

Working hard on something you love is one of the joys of life and then to be able to see the finished product is even more fulfilling. Sara summed this up saying, “it’s quite creative in a way, to work a bike and return all the bikes to their former glory, there’s something really satisfying about fixing broken things. Some of the bikes when they come in look like they’ve been dredged from a pond, which they probably have, and after some hours of love and labor then they’re sparkling and they’re beautiful and functioning again”. She explained that the social aspect of Recyke y’Bike is also really important, “in terms of the volunteering, it stops people becoming lonely, socially isolated, it means that people with a common interest but with perhaps quite different backgrounds can mix”. 

Where did Recyke y’Bike start their journey? 

Dorothy Caw set up the organisation as charity in 2006. She was inspired by a German bike recycling programme and her work as a trustee in a Newcastle refugee charity. It all started with her observation of the problems asylum seekers were facing when they were housed in the West side of the city but being sent to North Shields once a week to register. Through donations and volunteers Recyke y’Bike were able to provide people with free alternatives to expensive public transport costs of the 30 mile round journey. 

Since 2006 over 26,00 bikes have made their way through the organisation. In the past 3 years they have grown massively. Sara puts it down to the increasing importance placed on the environment. “Recycling and environmental sustainability is really high up the agenda so it’s a growing thing. I think cycling is becoming more attractive too, I think it’s sort of higher profile than it was a few years ago”. 

Opportunities for training

As well as community action, Recyke y’Bike also give people the chance to gain valuable long-term training and skills. They offer a variety of things for people who want to learn more. For example, the option to work with a mechanic for an hour to service your bike, helping you to learn what you need to know to DIY it the next time. Or for some more knowledge you can take a basic maintenance course. This is an opportunity to learn how to fix all the things that might go wrong while you’re out and about like, fixing tyres and putting the chains back on. They also provide an industry standard qualification called Velotech, a 4 day course for people interested in a career in the industry. 

There is a chance for everyone to get involved in training. There is a volunteer group for 18s to learn new skills. And they provide sessions for volunteers who might need more support because, they might have a learning disability, mental health condition or perhaps English isn’t their first language. Free services and education are also on the community agenda at Recyke y’Bike. They hold pop-up bike repair shops for kids on street corners, in parks and playgrounds. They work with schools to educate them about how cycling instead of driving impacts the environment and they give bikes to other community organisations like Kids Kabin who work all over the East End to give children new and fun learning opportunities. 

Bike Recycling goes International 

Break time being their favourite part of the school day is not the only thing children in Newcastle and The Gambia have in common. They have also been riding the same bikes.  

Recyke y’Bike and Key Enterprises in Benton have been able to work together to able to send bikes across the Atlantic. Key Enterprises provide supported activities to adults with acquired brain injuries, learning disabilities and mental health problems. For the last year and a half the two organisations, have been sending bikes to school children in The Gambia who would otherwise have to walk for an hour to and from school. 

Gambian School Children Enjoying Their New Bikes
(photo curtesy of Kate Larkin)

The project began when a support worker  from The Gambia had noticed that the children’s bikes that weren’t being used at Key Enterprises could be used elsewhere. They started by putting 10 bikes in a shipping container then Steve, the bike manager at Key Enterprises went over to have a look at what else they needed. The Key Charity Foundation for Kids was formed in The Gambia. Since the small beginnings 10 bikes a month the project has grown and around 150 bikes have travelled the 3,800 miles to Banjul. From there they’re transported to rural schools, benefitting children in The North Bank Region, like those at Pakau Njogu school. 

It has not only helped children to get to school but has also impacted them positively in the classroom. Kate, service manager at Key Enterprises, said that they received feedback from a headteacher, “the school reported that school attendance had increased loads since we started the project, that has had a knock-on effect on their academic achievements and future possibilities”. Key Enterprises pick up 20-30 bikes from Recyke y’Bike every week. Sara at Recyke y’Bike said “sometimes it’s difficult to store them all so being able to pass on bikes to Key Enterprise who send them to The Gambia is brilliant”.

Recycling bikes overseas has also given people the chance to get valuable training and education. The foundation in The Gambia is also setting up a bike workshop so that they can work with local people who are out of employment. They’ll learn how to fix up the bikes then the profit from selling them will go back into the schools to buy educational resources. There’s quite a difference between what schools in the UK and The Gambia need. Kate said that, “one school wanted to have some solar panels so they could have electricity for the classrooms and another needs to build perimeter wall to keep snakes out”. Key Enterprises are also looking to form partnerships between schools in Newcastle and The Gambia. Giving the Newcastle’s kids a one-of-a-kind opportunity to learn what life is like in rural Gambia from the children that live there. 

The operation just keeps getting bigger. There are 175 bikes sitting in a 40 foot container waiting to be shipped in May, with another 50 bikes and spare parts. The bikes that Key Enterprises and Recyke y’Bike have donated are linking people from different parts of the world with different experiences. Kate said, “from this initial opportunity of sending a few bikes over there, there’s  been so much potential”.

The bikes might only ever reach as far as the person who wants to go cycling in the Town Moor, or someone who needs to cycle to work in Durham. Or a bike donated by a Newcastle local could even reach as far as a school child in The Gambia. Each thing as important as the other. Recyke y’Bike and the work in The Gambia are proof that something can start small and, through Newcastle’s good people, it can touch the lives of people from all corners of the community on home soil and far away. 

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