A not-for- profit cycling co-operative based in the heart of Deptford aims to build bespoke bikes while teaching bike-building skills to unemployed and homeless people.
An arch that was once home to a cab office and before that an old slope that allowed horses to pull loads down to the market from Deptford station, is now home to Union Cycle Works. The walls are lined with racks that house stripped down frames next to shiny, fully refurbished made-to-order bikes. The perforated tool wall and neatly organised shelving unit at the back of the arch is the final indicator that this is not an amateur workshop.
Joe Harrington, who co-directs the project with fellow bike enthusiast Toby Hadden says: “We wanted to move to a space where we can do practical things with bikes, but also have the potential of using the restorative process of fixing a bike to help others.”
This is where UCW separates itself from the average bike workshop. Their aim is not only to build bespoke bikes but also to teach and train disadvantaged people their bike making skills. Mr. Harrington explains: “We work with charities such as The Margins Project. They highlight people that they think could benefit from working with us. These are people that would struggle otherwise to buy or fix a bike.”
Over a ten-week course the volunteers will learn how to build a bike from scratch and on completion of the course, they will keep this bike, making it an initial incentive for them to complete the course.
There is also scope for the trainees to work with UWC as freelance bike builders if they finish the course.
So far the UCW has received two small grants from the London Cycling Campaign that helped with the cost of tools, but they made a conscious effort to get as little help as possible.
“We didn’t want to be in a position where the company was shaped for us, that’s why there is a co-op membership with 10 members on the board that pay a monthly fee to cover overheads, in return they have access to the space and equipment.”
So far so good it seems, they have already received some orders for bikes and gained community support. At the moment UWC is run on a part-time basis, but Mr. Harrington says they are open to change:
“We do want to keep it small, but we are led by demand. It depends on how the model works out. There may be potential for funding that could enable us to employ one full time person. We’re not doing it as a business, we’re doing it as a community project that’s sustainable.”