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Community bike shop transforming lives in Westminster

Westminster Wheels

Published: 8 June 2022

  • Community bike shop, Westminster Wheels has trained 30 unemployed residents to become bike mechanics
  • Over 80 bikes have been donated to people in the local community
  • 9 tonnes of bikes have been rescued from the waste stream

A community bike shop, set up in partnership by Westminster City Council, Groundwork London and Cycle Confident, is providing opportunities for those most in need in Westminster.

The shop called ‘Westminster Wheels’ is located just off Edgware Road, one of the areas which has the highest rate of unemployment and health inequality in Westminster, and is providing opportunities for out of work residents to train as bike mechanics and be paid the London Living Wage while they are learning.

Throughout the six month programme, the trainees work alongside experienced bike mechanics refurbishing old bikes - of which 80% are sold at affordable prices to generate income for the shop, and 20% are donated to the local community.

Since the shop opened in March 2021, 30 Westminster residents have completed their six-month training and most have gone onto secure further employment, many within the bike industry.

Chris Whiteley, who successfully completed his paid work placement with Westminster Wheels and who is now a full-time bike mechanic said:

I first moved to London last year. I was homeless before I came here so I moved in with my sister. I found a poster for Westminster Wheels when I was going for a walk one day and thought, I love bikes and would love to learn how to fix them. Westminster Wheels has absolutely changed my life. I went from having no idea or what to do with my life to finding a career that I could happily spend the rest of my life doing.

The Westminster Wheels shop is also helping make cycling more attractive, affordable and accessible to those in the community who are least likely to cycle.

A recent report produced by Arup and the cycling charity Sustrans highlighted 74% of people from ethnic minority groups living in cities and towns do not currently cycle and that the high cost of a buying a suitable bike stopped many people from cycling. TfL analysis also shows that just 27% of cyclists are women.

So far, Westminster Wheels has donated over 80 bikes and these have been targeted at areas in Westminster with the highest rates of deprivation and health inequality.

In the past year, bikes have been provided to community organisations including Marylebone Bangladesh Society, Paddington Development Trust, Women’s Groups and via the council’s Children’s Services.

To encourage safe cycling, all the beneficiaries are made aware of bike training sessions and support and advice offered from the shop at Church Street.

Tell It Parent’s Network said:

A Big thank you to Westminster Wheels for the women’s bikes donated to us.’

Westminster Wheels recognizes that maintaining a bicycle can be expensive and a barrier to bike usage. That’s why, this year, it will be expanding its reach by donating bike servicing vouchers to low-income families in Westminster with the aim of providing 450 vouchers over the next six months.

Linking in with Westminster City Council’s wider climate action plan including its ambition to become a carbon neutral council by 2030 and city by 2040, the project also has a strong sustainability focus.

In its first year, 9 tonnes of disused bikes that would otherwise have gone to waste have been refurbished. Local people are being encouraged and enabled to choose active transport over cars.

The project’s reach has been made possible by sponsorship from businesses in Westminster including Capita, Ecoworld, Grosvenor, The Howard de Walden Estate, RMG, Westminster Community Homes, Ecoworld, HA Marks, Wates and Vital Energy.

Cllr Geoff Barraclough, Cabinet Member for Planning and Economic Development at Westminster City Council said:

Westminster Wheels has helped people who face high  barriers to employment such as homelessness learn new and useful skills. Over 60% of the trainees are now in full-time employment. If you’re a  cycling enthusiast or just  starting out on two wheels, please check out the Westminster Wheels shop on Church Street to meet the trainees and get expert advice on affordable bikes and servicing.

Find out more about Westminster Wheels including visiting the shop, applying to be a trainee and becoming a sponsor