Need a bike? Alfred met the Shaftesbury volunteers who restore and sell cycles at a fraction of the cost of High Street retailers. Hope2Cycle reconditioned bikes fund a local charity that develops skills and provides mental health help.
“Every bike is donated, and they all have their issues,” explained volunteer Garth, as he proudly showed me around the charity’s Longmead workshop. “When the bikes leave us, they are virtually brand new. They are worth what they’re asking, because of all the money that’s gone into putting it back on the road,” he added.
“Kind members of the public donate bikes to us when they finish with them or they’ve been in the shed for years gathering dust. There must be easily a hundred or more,” explained man-in-charge, John. He doesn’t like the ‘manager’ title. “I don’t like to think of it in that way, but I possibly am,” he laughed. He is modest about his important role, which has grown into twenty hours of weekly volunteering.
I was overwhelmed by the choice of bikes lined up outside the unit. Volunteer Adam carefully arranges this eye-catching display. “It’s quite a big job really,” he said, inspecting the four-deep array of gleaming metal in front of the unit. “And then we have to put them in afterwards.”
There appeared to be a make or model for every purpose, from town centre shopping trips to mountain bikes for getting active on Shaftesbury’s slopes. Sometimes Hope acquire collectables. They were recently donated a Raleigh Grifter, my 70s childhood favourite.
“We wouldn’t have the time and money to put into it, to really do it justice,” John confided. “It will be listed online as a project for somebody else to take on.” They’ve not been given a Raleigh Chopper yet. “They’re very valuable. We’ve had a couple of Raleigh Burner BMXs. We listed those online and got quite good money for them.”
That cash is vital for the charity, which works in tandem with Hope’s baking and mental health services operated from adjacent units. The bike tyres are inflated, their prices are not. “If people don’t have a lot of money to go to Halfords and buy a bike for £250, they can come here and know that it’s well-maintained and well-serviced. If they have any problems, they can come back to get it fixed,” explained volunteer Lee.
Hope passes its savings on to cycle shoppers. “Doing our work voluntarily keeps the overheads down. Some of the bikes we are donated might not be worth doing. We salvage parts and get the bikes back in action as cheaply as possible,” John added. “We make it as good as we possibly can. Mechanically it is ‘tip top’. Everything is looked at, adjusted, greased or replaced as necessary. If it is a particular colour, we don’t spray the whole frame. We do touch them up and spray the forks, if necessary, to make it look nice to the eye.”
A decent bike from Hope won’t cost too much money. “Adults’ bikes start at £50, but it does vary on the brand and condition. Children’s bikes are from £20, up to a maximum of about £60,” said John.
Like any voluntary service, the numbers of unpaid helpers fluctuate. “There are probably about eight to ten regulars. There are other ones who come when they can,” said John. He has significantly increased the time he gives to the project. “I used to come in two afternoons a week. I offered to do more because there was no one else.”
There are some times of the year when they could do with extra assistance, particularly summer. “People want to go out on the bikes. They get them out of the shed and they have a flat tyre and one thing leads to another. We get a lot more servicing this time of year. Throughout the colder months, we get the stock ready for sale. When people come shopping in the spring, there’s plenty to choose from.”
Kevin is a support worker for the NHS, and he’s followed the Hope project success for a decade. “I’ve seen Hope2Cycle grow from an idea into a functioning service for the community and for the people that come here to volunteer,” said Kevin.
He understands how Hope2Cycle can benefit locals who seek social interaction, want to develop new skills, or both. “Often people have an interest in doing something mechanical or being in a workshop situation, working with other people because they want that contact,” said Kevin. But you don’t need to be a repair expert to help out. “When I first started volunteering, I didn’t know where to start. If someone said, ‘Do you know how to do a brake?’ I wouldn’t have a clue. I would end up doing more damage than good,” said volunteer Garth. Team members were happy to show him what to do.
Volunteer of seven years, Paul, is keen to share his skills. “I’m an engineer by trade. I thought I’d pass on some of my knowledge because of my disability. I couldn’t work anymore. I used to be a toolmaker. I do a lot of fabricating – that’s nuts and bolts – and if the thread on them needs renewing I usually do that, or I do filing. I’ll make bits and pieces to do the job. I have been doing it since I was 16,” he said.
Hope can provide the practical experience which could lead to future employment. “You can learn a new skill that might help you in the future,” said Adam.
Garth gets personal satisfaction when he sees how people react to the team’s work. “You get a lot out of it because you get the enjoyment of doing the bike up and you get to see the customer’s face when they buy it, knowing they’ve got a really good bike. That makes me feel better because you know you’re giving them something that’s safe, not dangerous.”
Paul says the diverse backgrounds of volunteers leads to interesting banter. “Some used to be policemen. One was a nuclear scientist. We get all sorts of conversations.”
Every bike sold helps Hope, which makes a real difference to many locals’ lives. Lee would feel more isolated if he couldn’t come here on Thursdays and socialise over lunch. “On Monday, I will be looking forward to Thursday,” he said. He raved about the lasagne cooked by the Hope2Bake volunteers, but says Hope offers more than a mouth-watering menu. The project helps his mental wellbeing.
“I live by myself in my flat. It can be very lonely and boring. Having this on your doorstep is really handy. Even if I just drop in for a coffee and a chat, it gets you out of the house, especially if you have health issues,” said Lee.
He faces challenges with his mobility and, as we spoke, he steadied himself with a stick. “That’s due to a neurological problem that I’ve got with my leg. There’s not a lot I can do about it. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not. It’s one of those things you’ve got to live with,” he said.
Hope is well-named. “We need more places like this across the country, to help people with their mental attitude,” added NHS worker Kevin. Whether you’re looking for a low-cost bike, or want to broaden your skills, Hope2Cycle is open between 12noon and 5pm, Monday to Thursday. “They would love to see you, if you want to get involved,” added Kevin.