Cycle of kindness

9 July 2019 | Scotland

Bikes for Refugees founder Steven McCluskey

How Steven set up Bikes for Refugees, brilliant charity helping newcomers integrate into the community.

As requests for help go, it was one of the more challenging that charity head Steven McCluskey had received.

Not one, but three refugee families from Syria were hoping to each receive a bicycle to help them with their new lives in Scotland. With no cars, and living in a relatively isolated community north of Aberdeen, bikes would help with social inclusion and integration. In purely practical terms, it would ensure they could get to get around their local area and make appointments.

With the group consisting of eight adults and 10 children, that meant 18 bikes to source. Not only that, but the bikes were to be transported 150 miles north from Edinburgh.

But Steven, who founded and runs the inspirational Bikes for Refugees charity, is well versed in making the impossible possible. He launched a crowdfunding appeal to pay for the repair of donated bikes, plus helmets and lights. Then he put out a Facebook appeal to source a van and someone to drive it.

Since he launched Bikes for Refugees three years ago, Steven and his band of more than 20 volunteers have refurbished and gifted more than 600 donated bikes for asylum-seekers across Scotland.

“We like to call them New Scots,” he explains. “They like it too, rather than being labeled by their circumstances. It also sends out an important message of solidarity to people who arrive in Scotland seeking safety and shelter.

“We have proven that bikes and the transformational power of cycling helps isolated families and children to connect with communities, essential services, and to connect with people - helping to forge new friends.”

The charity repair and distribute bikes from Edinburgh and Glasgow. In Edinburgh they are based at the Bridge 8 Hub outdoor learning and activity centre in a 40ft shipping container alongside the Union Canal. In Glasgow they have formed a partnership with SoulRiders Scotland where the volunteers repair and distribute bikes. At their workshops they also train refugees to be bike mechanics.

All sorts of bikes come in, including some donated by the public, others given up as lost property from universities and abandoned bikes handed over by the police.

The scheme is now so popular that Steven and his team can’t keep up with demand and there is a waiting list of more than 50 people hoping to benefit.

Steven has to fit in his charity work alongside a full time job as a development manager for a mental health charity.

He was inspired to start Bikes for Refugees after meeting a young man called Yaman who had fled the conflict in Syria with nothing more than the clothes on his back.

“I saw an appeal on social media asking for help. I am a keen cyclist and managed to get a local bike shop to donate him a bike. It quickly became obvious what a difference having the bike made to his life. He was not allowed to work, and couldn’t claim benefits, and was only receiving an allowance of a few pounds. He didn’t even have enough money to use local transport.

“The bike at least meant he could explore his new home but also it gave him a means of transport so he could meet with the home office and discuss his claim.”

From that first person, the project snowballed as Steven realised just how many people could benefit.

“Where I live in Edinburgh, asylum seekers tend to be housed miles out from the city. It means they can quickly become isolated and I hear stories about them having to walk three or four hours a day just to access vital services like a doctor’s appointment. They also need to come into the centre to meet with solicitors.

“Having a bike gives them freedom of movement and lets them meet up with others. Another nice thing is that we have introduced women who might never have ridden a bike, and come from countries where it is not deemed socially acceptable, to ride for the first time.”

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