Bikes reclaimed by the police are changing lives in East London.
Now in its second year, the Re-Cycle programme lets young people tinker with and take home bikes donated by the police, often wheeling people away from a dangerous alternative.
“This isn’t just another bike programme,” says Darren Way, founder of Streets of Growth, the community group which set up Re-Cycle in 2010.
“We’re trying to support young people and stop them getting involved in street gangs and territorialism.”
Every little helps
The original idea came from youths wanting to work on cars, but Streets of Growth didn’t have the space or funds to set up a mechanics workshop.
They approached the local Safer Neighbourhood Team to donate bikes, and Bromley Tesco donated tools, and a rooftop space to work from.
The first programme was launched in February half term, and proved a great success.
“The police would come in and roll up their sleeves, and the Tesco Community Champion would also get his hands dirty,” Darren remembers.
“There were high levels of theft going on at Tesco, and grief between youths and security. But theft was the lowest ever that week.”
Throughout the week the participants learnt bike maintenance and road safety, and paved the way for a permanent set-up
Following the success of the Tesco trial, Streets of Growth renovated a warehouse space, creating a purpose-built bike workshop.
In November, the team were deemed to have the best cycling project for young people by LCC, and awarded £7,000.
Darren and his team, with the help of BikeWorks, are now able to reach people in their late teens, who are not in education, employment, or training.
“These are young people who may have slipped through the net at school, and have come through school very under-developed in terms of numeracy, literacy, and confidence.”
As a result, City & Guilds qualifications have been incorporated into the training, in a bid to get participants into cycle apprenticeships.
Joshua Cox was pessimistic when outreached by Streets of Growth and Bikeworks, but within six months found himself employed by Bikeworks and Evans Cycles as a mechanic.
“I can’t believe I have a career in what was a childhood hobby. It’s turned my life around,” he says.
Youths can take part anything from a one-day event to a programme run over 10 weeks, depending on their needs.
A relentless programme
Despite this, much needs to be done to keep youths in the programme: “Most people need very extensive outreach, even though they are getting a bike,” says Darren.
The team finds themselves knocking on doors if participants don’t show up; a task which Darren says makes Re-Cycle one of the most relentless programmes in Tower Hamlets: “That’s what makes it unique; it deals with the stuff at street level.”
So far there have been no problems over ownership of the reclaimed bikes, and many are given a new lease of life by participants. Others are kept for constant dismantling, allowing a new breed of cyclists to be built.