I met Alice from United Bikes at a Social Vision Connects event. Her story of bicycle training for migrant women seemed amazing, I needed to know more.
It was during the refugee crisis of 2016 that Alice decided she wanted to make a difference, but she didn’t know how to do that. She toyed with the idea of going to Calais, but for her that wasn’t the answer. Then she had a lightbulb moment, she was a qualified unemployed cycling instructor, could she use those skills to make a difference?
She lived round the corner from Refugee Action York so went in and had a chat. She was invited to come in one Sunday morning and ask the refugees herself.
The room had about 20 people in, there was an Arabic and Turkish translator and Alice had to wait after each sentence so that her idea was explained.
At the end of her talk she said ‘Would anyone like to learn to ride a bicycle?’
There was a pause as the question was translated, and then EVERY hand in the room went up.
Her hunch was correct. She could make a difference.
Her first session saw her borrow heavy bicycles from the council that her and a friend had to wheel from James Street to Hull Road Park. They stood around to see if anyone would come. Four Turkish women turned up; United Bikes had started.
Sessions initially were organised on an adhoc basis, but by the Spring a schedule was in place. A Sudanese woman joined, some Syrians. The group grew. And quickly Alice realised there was so much more to this get together than just learning to ride.
‘The bicycle is really the tool for getting the community together. Everyone wants to chat, laugh, eat, share stories and share food. There is a real feeling of bringing people together.’
But learning to ride also has a greater impact on these people. It helps to alleviate poverty, by saving people from needing a car or going on the bus. It enables people to get out and about and socialise and widens their view of their city. It improves their English and combats loneliness. As well a being great for physical and mental wellbeing, of course!
Last year Alice heard about The School of Social Entrepreneurs and nervously applied. The panel were unanimously blown away by her idea. And this gave Alice the confidence and the knowledge to create a company limited by guarantee with charitable objectives, write her constitution, get together a board of directors, get insurance and a bank account, and to apply for funding.
One of the Directors, Emma, is the brains behind ‘Bikes in need’, another York Social Enterprise who recondition abandoned or donated bicycles and hands them on to those in need, including to refugees.
This years United Bikes sessions run from March – May, May – July and Sept – December.
Any women who would benefit from joining the United Bikes group, get in touch with Alice on firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep in touch with all their news on twitter @united_bikes