It’s 10am. Greg is giving a trainee hints about starting his own bike repair business: how to avoid handling stolen bikes and the tools and equipment that he will need.
There’s a relaxed atmosphere that seems a million miles from any classroom I’ve ever sat in – but teaching and learning is happening here. The work of the day is getting under way. Over the next few hours one of the trainees (Si) will strip down an old bike, replace worn parts and rebuild it to be safe and roadworthy.
Greg tells me they always start with the brakes. That strikes me as a good principle for getting a life back on track, “start with the brakes”, and it’s happening here. The project offers the opportunity for people to call a halt to the destructive cycles in their lives, and rebuild from the basics.
“This is my third project, and I’m going to sell this one.” says Si. He’s then quick to emphasise that the money made will go back into the project.
Si’s eyes light up when he’s talking about bikes “I love stripping down wheels to all the ball bearings inside. It’s good for me; I find it soothing. When you have a wheel that you have fixed and it just runs smoothly, that’s the best feeling in the world.” He proudly shows me his ‘second’ completed project, a BMX that he’s salvaged for a friend. He obligingly poses on the BMX for a photograph.
Most of the guys who have been along to sessions are avid cyclists. Or if they are not, they quickly get drawn into it as a past time and a practical means of transport.
“I didn’t know anything about bicycles before I came here. Everything I know came from Greg.” Says Jonny, the first trainee to have completed a course that we offer. “I used to walk everywhere, now I cycle, and I actually get out more.”
It’s Jonny who would like to get his own business going and, by his own account, he’s gone from sitting at home doing nothing every day to having plans to make a profit from doing something he’s become passionate about.
Greg is confident that there’s a market for the kinds of skills that trainees can pick up through the sessions. “We are still in the middle of the cycling revolution. Everyone’s getting bikes. There will be more and more to do.”
Our popup workshop in Gateshead makes use of some cheap bikes that have been steadily upgraded and used for training. Donations of bicycles are also gratefully received and can be used here or at other workshop sessions planned for the region. Greg is buzzing with ideas about how everything can be used without wastage. If it doesn’t go on a working machine, they will try to find a way to recycle it, and this has brought into being some unique décor items: stools, lamps, wall decorations.
The message is clear: There’s potential in everything and everybody. As they dismantle bikes, clean, repair, replace parts and rebuild, trainees find a safe space in their lives where they can accrue small victories, build their confidence and form a positive vision of their future.