The Bristol Bike Project


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The Bristol Bike Project talks to Quella Cycles

This month, our Community Coordinator Krysia, spoke to Quella Bicycle’s – the British single speed bike designer and retailer – about the Project’s ten year journey. This interview was originally posted in their blog, The Fix. The beautiful photos are courtesy of our friends James Mackay and Sim Warren.

Happy birthday to the project!  Congratulations on your 10th anniversary, that’s quite an achievement.  For those unfamiliar with BBP, can you explain how it all began and why?

Thanks! Yes, we’re really proud to be celebrating our 10th year! BBP was born when two friends came back from a cycling trip in Norway with the idea to do combine their new-found love of bikes with a desire to do good in their community. Through volunteering with Bristol Refugee Rights (BRR), they’d come to know of the acute need for affordable transport among asylum seekers in Bristol, many of whom were struggling to get about the city to make important appointments. They put up some posters asking for unwanted bicycles, and within days were spannering away and rehoming those bicycles with people from BRR. The mound of donated bikes grew as quickly as the number of people knocking on our door needing a bike themselves, and before we knew it we were settling into the vibrant workshop in Hamilton House which we still call home today. Our friend James from Touchpaper Productions recently made a film to tell the story of our 10 year journey. It’s a lovely watch, for anyone interested!

We hear you are in the 2019 Lonely Planet guide, what sort of experience are you offering a tourist who turns up with Lonely Planet in their back pocket?

Indeed we are! It was a lovely surprise to get that Lonely Planet window sticker through the post! The Project has definitely become a bit of a meeting point in Bristol, so it’s amazing to get this recognition on a national scale. For anyone, tourists or otherwise, interested to know more about the Project, I’d say don’t just come down to have a look. The real experience is by coming along and getting stuck in. You could come and fix your own bike at one of our DIY workshops, sign up for a maintenance course, or volunteer at a session to help others get out on two wheels! We also offer tours to people who are setting up their own bike projects, and we’re really happy to share our learnings to get people started.

How many staff and volunteers work at the Project now?

We’re a pretty big community now… There’s around 16 employees, mostly part-time, including our shop mechanics, coordinators for our community programmes, and office staff who keep busy making sure everything is rolling smoothly behind the scenes. We also have around 150 volunteers who give a huge amount of time and energy to get bicycles ready for our community programmes. Most of our volunteers are keen to get their hands dirty in the workshop, but we also have some fantastic volunteer support in the office, helping the business of the Co-op tick over. Oh – and all our directors are volunteers as well!

Where do staff typically come from?  Do you take them on as trained mechanics or are they learning on the job?

Many of the mechanics, and office staff, who are now employed at the Project started out as volunteers. We’re really keen to support people who want to build their skills, and volunteering with us is a really great way to get that training. Many volunteers actually say how getting involved in the Project helped them to realise that they want to pursue a career as a bike mechanic and have gone on to get jobs either at the Project or other bike shops in Bristol. It’s amazing to see people develop in this way! We don’t offer any formal training or apprenticeship schemes at the moment, but it’s something we’re keen to look at in the future.

Does a job at BBP tend to be a start point for people wanting to move onwards in the cycling industry, like an apprenticeship type model?

Yes, a number of our volunteers have started out learning here, and have gone on to work in great independent bike shops in Bristol like Jakes Bikes, Bike Workshop, Roll Quick and Bool’s Bicycles. Some also get jobs with us, or learn elsewhere and then come to work for us. I think being mechanic here is quite different from other bike shops – you’re working not to make a profit for the business, but to support our community programmes which help people with less money get out on two wheels as well. We’re also a Co-op, so everyone – yes, even the mechanics! – get stuck in with the wider business of the Project, like designing our community programmes, training volunteers and providing general support to the wider BBP community. 

How is BBP funded, is it possible to generate any surplus with a model like this?  What happens to any profits?

We fund ourselves for the most part through our busy bicycle shop, where we sell refurbished second-hand bikes, and do all the usual bike shop stuff like repairs and services. It’s always been the priority to make our own money where possible, so that we’re resilient and not reliant on grants. We also get some grant money and have a successful Earn-a-Bike Supporters’ Scheme – we’re really grateful for all the donors, funders and customers who support us, ensuring we can continue to be here for our community.

We’re a Community Interest Community, so all our profits are reinvested in our community programmes. We are able to generate surplus, which is really important in safeguarding the Project against any big expenses things that might come up – like our move this year!

We understand a move is on the cards, for any potential landlords out there, maybe you could tell us what you are looking for?

Yes, we’re really sad to be leaving our lovely home at Hamilton House, but the time has come to move onto pastures new. We are looking for suitable spaces anywhere in Bristol – somewhere accessible, reasonably central and affordable. To give you an idea on size, we currently have about 1500 sq ft inside for our shop and community workshop, and a further 900 sq ft externally for bike storage. We’d love to find a bigger space if we can, but we’re flexible and willing to be creative! We don’t have a clear idea of when our landlords want us out, but it could be as soon as February 2019 so we are looking for somewhere as soon as possible to ensure a smooth transition.

We know your efforts have been recognised with a few awards over the years but we understand that 2018 landed a biggie with the National Community Group Award – tell us more.

We were pretty thrilled when one of our former Earn-a-Bikers, Essam – popped in a few months back to tell us he’d nominated us for MTM’s community group award, which celebrates the the excellence & achievements of Asian, Black & Ethnic Minorities. We were even more thrilled when we were announced as the winners! There’s so many organisations doing such wonderful work in Bristol, so it’s a real honour to be named for an award like this!