Words by Tristan Kennedy | Photos by Susan Black
“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”
– Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Here’s an interesting statistic. Every year, around 13,500 people come to London seeking asylum. In the same period, almost exactly twice that number of bikes – just over 27,000 – are left abandoned on the streets of the capital.
On the surface these figures may seem entirely unrelated. But making the connection between them provided the inspiration for one of the most innovative and effective charities working with refugees in the UK today. Introducing The Bike Project, which collects unwanted and abandoned bikes, repairs them in its workshop in Herne Hill, South London, and gives them out to asylum seekers.
“As an asylum seeker you only get £36 a week to live off, and you’re not allowed to work.”
“When I was at university I mentored an asylum seeker called Adam who’d fled Darfur,” says Jem Stein explaining how the charity came into being. “He was 16.”
“In order to create a life for yourself in London you need to be able to access education, healthcare, psychological support, and other resources and services. And one of the big challenges Adam faced was actually just getting anywhere. As an asylum seeker you only get £36 a week to live off, and you’re not allowed to work. You do get accommodation but it’s really poor quality and tends to be around the outskirts of London, which is obviously a bit counterproductive.”
To help him out, Jem gave Adam a bike (“it was a mate’s old bike that he didn’t want anymore”) and was amazed by how much of an impact it had on his young friend’s life. Not only did it help Adam make all his Home Office appointments on time, it gave him a measure of freedom and independence. He could come and go as he pleased, travel to see friends or just cycle purely for the fun of it.