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Bikes work wonders building community cohesion

With a career spanning medicine, journalism, horticulture and education, Tom Barber had a very clear objective when he opened his bike repair and training shop in 2013.

Tom established his business, Trusty Steed, as a Community Interest Company (CIC), and set up Nottingham Bike Works, which takes donated bikes, repairs and refurbishes them for sale. 

Even more importantly, it offers bike maintenance courses and runs a number of community and social projects, which make a real difference to the people who take part in them.

“I’d always been keen on bikes, but the business was never intended to be a bike shop,” he said. “It was always going to be a community venture. 

“We wanted to encourage people to cycle as regular, everyday transport; reduce waste by returning unwanted bikes back into the community, and use bikes as a way of educating and enabling community cohesion, particularly for disadvantaged groups.”

The Build a Bike project, for example, works with the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum and offers  workshop sessions to young refugees settling in Nottingham, showing them how to repair and refurbish a donated bike, giving them cycling lessons and helping orientate them to their new surroundings. At the end of each course, the participants have a bike that allows them to get to college, have made new friends and feel a sense of inclusion in the local community. 

“We work with a lot of people displaced from the Calais refugee camps,” says Tom. “They’re a lovely group to work with. After the challenges they’ve faced getting here, it’s great for them to have some fun and social interaction, and have a really useful bike of their own at the end of it!”

Nottingham Bike Works also takes on teenagers from local secondary schools who have behaviour problems and are on the verge of permanent exclusion, offering them alternative provision with a one-to-one or one-to-two focus, and allowing them to get their hands dirty learning new skills, building confidence and self-esteem. It shows kids they can succeed and they return to school more able to cope and with better behaviour.

The business gets most of income from its commercial activities – bike repair/refurb and running training courses – along with funding for specific projects. The focus is very much on providing a community resource, and working with like-minded organisations – which is why Tom chose The Phone Co-op as its telecoms and broadband supplier.

“We’ve been a Phone Co-op customer at home for years so it was an instinctive choice,” says Tom. “We have all had so many issues with the big corporate telecoms providers – so it’s really nice if you have a problem with the internet to pick up the phone and talk to a real human being. I’m a great supporter of anything co-operative!”.