Celebrating 17 years of breaking down barriers to cycling this month, Bikeworks has been shortlisted for a Social Enterprise award.
Bikeworks was shortlisted for the Social Enterprise Innovation of the Year for their cycling hub that guides disabled people around in tandem bikes in Victoria Park, and their inclusive cycling shop in Queen Elizabeth Park, both the first of their kind.
TFL’s efforts to break down barriers to cycling with London have seen a widened demographic of bikers in the last decade, with those opting for bikes increasing by 25% last year according to The Standard. However, there still remain chasms in accessibility for swathes of people in the city.
Bikeworks, located on the grounds of Team GB’s cycling success, in Stratford’s Olympic Park, ‘believes there is a cycling experience for everyone’. Their work is aimed mainly at people experiencing loneliness and isolation as well as those with disabilities. Its ‘All-ability Club’ familiarises disabled people with adapted bikes and guides them on trails through Victoria Park.
Bikeworks offers a free taxi scheme ‘Ride Side by Side’, which trains its ‘pilots’ in the ‘art of conversation’ encouraging them to nurture relationships with their passengers. These pilots then use tandem bikes to taxi those experiencing loneliness, often the elderly around their local area, helping them to leave the house where it might be difficult.
‘The impact we create is all down to this incredible ecosystem of activities’, said Bikeworks’ co-founder and co-chair Zoe Portlock. ‘Bikeworks has had over 3000 conversations with lonely Londoners. Our pilots are trained in the art of conversation, which means being able to adjust to any person’s needs. Sometimes it is about getting someone to and from the shops and that’s wonderful but sometimes these people haven’t spoken to anyone all week.’
Bikeworks volunteer George Rowlands started working with the group last year and was trained as a cycle pilot, he said that he ‘sensed some apprehension’ from a lunch group he used to attend with their partners at St. Luke’s in Canning town, but that ‘ultimately they loved the service, and one man used it over 100 times.’ One group cancelled their usual minibus and opted entirely for Side by Side instead.
‘Everyone’s got a story to tell’, Rowlands said, ‘On one of my first shifts, I took out an older gentleman who had quite severe mobility problems and hadn’t been out of the house for around two weeks. He had no food in the house and didn’t realise we could take him to the shops. Afterwards, he thanked me and said ‘I’m actually going to eat tonight.’
‘One man who used Cycle Taxi had cancer and a stroke and was in and out of hospital. Prior to Cycle Taxi, he would have to stay overnight. He called us in the last couple of months we were operating to say how grateful he was as the extra fitness means he can recover from his treatment quicker – and that he can now leave hospital on the same day as his treatment.’
Portlock wants to see recognition for the improvement to mental and physical health Bikeworks has seen in its users, not just its democratising of cycling as a mode of transport.
She added: ‘This isn’t just about a mode of transport. If you have cerebral palsy and you are at home, unable to afford a decent gym membership we don’t want you to deteriorate. What we do improves everything to do with both your physical and mental health.’
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